The internet enables misinformation on COVID

QUICK READ: Some deaths will occur during the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, but these deaths would have happened for other reasons and are unrelated to the vaccine. Vaccine-hesitant groups are peddling misinformation online and conspiracy theories aimed at eroding trust in the COVID-19 vaccine are everywhere forcing people to conduct more research.

In some instances, vaccine-hesitant activists are manufacturing stories of deaths related to the vaccine that never happened. These groups are also latching onto reports of real deaths following the shot, blaming the vaccine and disregarding medical information that other causes are to blame. While patients have the right to full disclosure, misinformation and scare tactics could lead to more deaths from COVID.

A big source of mistrust in the COVID-19 vaccine comes from the speed at which it was produced. A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 27 percent of Americans said they “probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine,” even if it were free and deemed safe by scientists. The major concerns for hesitancy included worries over side effects and that the vaccine is too new. Also cited was a lack of trust in the government to ensure the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness.

A recent Pew Research Centerpoll reports that 39 percent of people say they definitely or probably wouldn’t get a coronavirus vaccination. This endangers more than the people who don’t get shots; we need a large though as-yet-undetermined percentage of people to be vaccinated before we see a slowdown in the virus’s spread and with it the indirect protection known as herd immunity. Meanwhile, vulnerable groups whose immune systems are too compromised to be vaccinated are unprotected.

It’s true that the Covid-19 vaccine went through an unprecedentedly rapid process — for which we should all be grateful, given the urgency. And while there’s concern that the Covid-19 vaccines were rushed and that that means they haven’t been properly vetted or that their safety is otherwise in question, it’s simply not the case.

A chief reason for the speedy turnaround was a decision the federal government made to expedite delivery of the vaccine — which has nothing to do with the scientific validity of the drug itself. The government allowed the drugmakers to mass-produce the vaccine while still conducting clinical trials. This was a gamble: If the Food and Drug Administration deemed the vaccines not safe and effective, those doses would be no better than trash. But it’s a bet that seems to have paid off.

Another concern stems from the talk that the medical technology involved is “novel.” It’s the first time such a vaccine technique has been authorized, but that doesn’t mean it’s unknown. In fact, RNA-based platforms to deliver vaccines have been researched since the 1990s. Having this technology and know-how in place allowed for speedy development during a pandemic and should be applauded.

A Tiny Number of People Will Be Hospitalized Despite Being Vaccinated

Known as “breakthrough infections,” cases in which people test positive for COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated are extremely rare.  As the coronavirus continues to mutate, breakthrough cases may be the leading indicator of a new variant that is more resistant to a vaccine, which could necessitate manufacturers adapting their vaccines or developing booster shots.

As of April 12, South Carolina’s health department said it had identified 155 cases of breakthrough infection, which is less than 0.02% of about 950,500 people in the state who have completed their vaccination course. That’s a similar rate to that reported in Washington state, where, as of March 30, 102 breakthrough cases were reported out of more than 1 million fully vaccinated people. Eight people, or 0.0008% of those fully vaccinated, were hospitalized. Oregon’s experience is also similar, with about 0.02% of 700,000 fully vaccinated Oregonians experiencing breakthrough infections so far. Three out of those 168 people died.

According to Pew Research “Around seven-in-ten U.S. adults (69%) said in mid-February that they would definitely or probably get a coronavirus vaccine, including 19% who said they’d already received at least one dose”. Apart from demographic and partisan differences, Americans who have more confidence in the vaccine R&D process are far more likely to get a coronavirus vaccine. In February, 96% of those with a great deal of confidence in this process said they would definitely or probably get a COVID-19 vaccine or had already received at least one dose, compared with just 21% of those who said they had not too much or no confidence in the vaccine R&D process.

The safe way to increase the number of immune people, thereby probably protecting everyone by limiting the ability of the virus to spread, is through vaccination. More vaccinated people means fewer new infections and fewer infections needed to get close to herd immunity. The closer we get to herd immunity, the safer people are who can’t get vaccinated, such as young children (at least for now).

A new approach to market was needed

Using the traditional prescription medication approach to approval would usually take more than 10 years to be developed and cost between $200 and $500 million. With Covid-19, we couldn’t afford to wait. Because of how deadly and disruptive Covid-19 is, we simply had to find ways to speed up the usual vaccine development approach.

For the Covid vaccine, new collaborative approaches to science and global manufacturing and distribution have been created. The result has been faster vaccine development than we’ve ever seen, but without cutting back on testing and safety measures.

Trust and confidence in the regulatory review process for COVID-19 vaccines are critically important to widespread acceptance and broad uptake of the vaccine. People who point to deficiencies in COVID vaccines are risking patients lives.