News that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine candidate showed 90% efficacy in phase 3 clinical trial was applauded by infectious disease experts on Monday — but getting both the medical community and the public to receive the vaccine, should it be authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), will rely heavily on vaccine education, one doctor told Fox News.
During a Tuesday media briefing, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar said officials have “guaranteed access to 100 million doses” should the vaccine receive FDA approval.
“Back in April when I was forming Operation Warp Speed, if you told me that by November we would have exciting data from phase 3 vaccine trial and substantial supplies of a monoclonal antibody authorized and ready for distribution, I would have been absolutely stunned,” said Azar. “If Pfizer’s product receives FDA authorization, thanks to Operation Warp Speed, we have guaranteed access to 100 million doses which we purchased for $1.95 billion, and an option for another 500 million more.”
“We’ve talked about building the bridge to safe and effective vaccines. That bridge is taking shape with these new therapeutics and doubling down on promoting good public health measures. Each day, Americans can be more confident that we’re going to get to the other side of that bridge with the distribution of safe and effective vaccines,” he added.
But what good will a vaccine be if Americans are hesitant to receive it? A survey of 100,000 people conducted by the Pew Research Center from September, for instance, found that only about half (51%) of those questioned would receive the COVID-19 vaccine if one were available today, a 21 percentage point drop from May when a similar survey was conducted.
Dr. Stanley Spinner, the vice president and chief medical officer at Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care, said vaccine education is paramount in getting both the medical community and the general population to receive any approved COVID-19 vaccine.
“Pediatricians have dealt with vaccine hesitancy for many years, and the number of families continues to increase annually. Clear and honest communication is key in helping these families learn the truths versus myths regarding vaccines. By taking the time to explain the benefits of the vaccines, while truly listening to and addressing the concerns expressed by the patient/family, we can effectively reduce the hesitancy that many families have regarding all or specific vaccines. As we do this, we see vaccine rates increase,” he told Fox News.
Spinner noted, however, that the country may experience a “unique situation” regarding any possible COVID-19 vaccine as “the political environment surrounding the vaccine has caused concerns even amongst the medical community regarding the true safety and efficacy of such a vaccine.”
“As primary care physicians, we will need to trust our medical and public health experts in order for us to first accept vaccination for ourselves. When we do that, then we can effectively help our patient families develop trust and confidence in our medical system to deliver a vaccine the majority of our families will accept,” said Spinner. “This is where clear communication and listening to our patients’ concerns will be most crucial if we are to help many families be comfortable with acceptance of any COVID-19 vaccine.”
Spinner’s comments echo those of Vanderbilt University Medical Professor Dr. William Schaffner, who also told Fox News that first convincing the medical community of a safe and effective vaccine is key.
“If politicians can stand back and let the scientists and public health people be in the front, that will go a long way with the medical community, where skepticism is just as bad as it is in the public,” he said, noting transparency from federal agencies such as the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also of the upmost importance.
In an effort to combat vaccine skepticism, the CDC on Monday announced it is launching a national strategy to reinforce confidence in COVID-19 vaccines amid distrust among both the medical community and public.
“To promote the vaccine and to provide assurance, the medical community will have to be shown first,” said Schaffner. “Even if we peel back this political veneer, these concerns are not unusual; a new virus, a new vaccine — a degree of skepticism is not unreasonable.”
Fox News’ Kayla Rivas contributed to this report.