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Dec 17 2020

Pharmacists Can Help Allay Patients' Concerns About COVID-19 Vaccination

When news broke in late-November that more than half of New York City firefighters said they would not get the COVID-19 vaccine, it seemed to drive home the deep reluctance many Americans have about the vaccine. The firefighters' sentiments were echoed just a week later, when an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey found roughly half of Americans were wither not sure if they would get the vaccine, or flat-out said they would not.

Now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has greenlighted administration of the vaccine, these findings highlight the need to educate skeptical Americans about the safety of the treatments, and the importance of having widespread vaccination among the U.S. population.

"When you have 75 percent-to-80 percent of the people vaccinated, you have an umbrella of protection over the community, that the level of community spread will be really, really very low. The virus will not have any place to go," Dr. Anthong Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said in an early-December press appearance with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. However, "if 50 percent of the people get vaccinated, then we don't have that umbrella of immunity over us."

Pharmacists, of course, have a leading role in providing critical information to the U.S. public. Americans consistently rank pharmacists at the top of "most trusted professions," and rely on their pharmacists for honest, accurate information about a wide range of health topics. With pharmacists poised to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, they will be in high-demand as sources of accurate information.

Although pharmacists will receive more extensive information about each approved vaccine from their state pharmacy board and other government sources, the Centers for Disease Control has provided some interim facts that can be used to help address patients' concerns about safety and efficacy. A few of these points include:

  • COVID-19 vaccines will not give you COVID-19. None of the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States use the live virus that causes COVID-19. The goal for each vaccine is to teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Sometimes this process can cause symptoms such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity.
  • Safety was not sacrificed for speed in developing the COVID-19 vaccine. Operation Warp Speed was able to accelerate production of a COVID-19 vaccine by eliminating the volumes of red tape and bureaucratic obstacles that delay the development of other vaccines. COVID-19 vaccine candidates were given "top of the pile" treatment which enabled fast regulatory review. However, all vaccines fully completed every step of the FDA's process for vaccine development, without exception.
  • COVID-19 vaccination will help keep you from getting COVID-19.
    • The vaccine developed by Pfizer has a 95 percent efficacy rate, as does the treatment developed by Moderna.
    • Based on what is known about vaccines for other diseases, experts believe  that getting a COVID-19 vaccine may help keep you from getting seriously ill, even if you do get COVID-19.
  • Getting vaccinated yourself may also protect people around you, particularly people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
    • COVID-19 vaccination will be a safer way to help build protection.
    • COVID-19 can have serious, life-threatening complication and there is no way to know how the virus will affect you. And if you get sick, you could spread the disease to friends, family, and others around you.
    • Getting COVID-19 may offer some natural protection, known as immunity but experts don't know how long this protection lasts. The risk of severe illness and death from COVID-10 far outweighs any benefits of natural immunity. COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you by creating an antibody response without having to experience the illness.
  • COVID-19 vaccination is an important tool in helping stop  the pandemic.
    • Wearing masks and social distancing help reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others, but these measures are not enough. Vaccines work with your immune system so it will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed.

Despite the public's apparent skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine, experts are optimistic that opinions will change once vaccinations are underway. Notable, former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barak Obama have volunteered to publicly receive their vaccinations as a way to build public confidence in the vaccine's safety. "If Anthony Fauci tells me this vaccine is safe, and can immunize you from getting COVID, absolutely, I'm going to take it," former-President Obama said in an interview.