Coronavirus: Worry looms over vaccines

October 21, 2020
Keith A. Reynolds
Keith A. Reynolds

Concerns over efficacy and politics clouds hope for a vaccine to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to cut a bloody swath across the country, the public’s view of possible vaccines is throwing cold water on hopes that they might bring an end to the pandemic.

According to a news release from Cornell University, in a survey of about 2,000 American adults only about half said they would be willing to take a vaccine with an efficacy of 50 percent, which is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s minimum threshold for a COVID-19 vaccine. This is surprising as a 50 percent efficacy is comparable to flu vaccine.

The acceptance increased to 61 percent of respondents when the vaccine’s effectiveness was increased to 90 percent, which the researchers say makes efficacy the most important factor in regard to Americans’ willingness to adopt a COVID-19 vaccine.

"Our results suggest that 50 percent efficacy will lead to significant vaccine hesitancy," Douglas Kriner, professor of government at Cornell, says in the release. "We might not get enough people to take it at that level, even though it would be a valuable public health intervention."

Politics also play a part, as 52 percent of respondents were willing to take a vaccine endorsed by President Donald J. Trump, while 55 percent were willing to take one endorsed by his Democratic competitor Joseph Biden. The public showed more willingness when the hypothetical vaccine was endorsed by public health institutions, moving to 58 percent for the World Health Organization and 59 percent for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the release says.

The results of the study were published this week in JAMA Open.

A separate release from City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy says that an international group of researchers found that concerns about a possible COVID-19 vaccine go beyond the borders of the U.S.

In a survey of more than 13,400 people from 19 different countries hit hard by the virus, 72 percent of respondents said they would likely take the vaccine, 14 percent would refuse, and 14 percent would hesitate. The researchers say that equates to tens of millions of potential vaccine avoiders.

Perhaps feeling the winds of certainty around their upcoming products, executives from nine drug manufacturers released an open letter in September affirming their commitment to uphold the integrity of the scientific process in the development and regulatory filings of a possible vaccine.