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There’s something very disturbing that could stop coronavirus vaccines from working

Published Nov 17th, 2020 9:00AM EST
Image: Fabian/Adobe

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  • Moderna over the weekend announced that its new COVID-19 vaccine is 94.5% effective at preventing the coronavirus.
  • A coronavirus vaccine, however, is only effective if taken by a majority of a country’s population.
  • Conspiracy theories and misinformation about a coronavirus vaccine, however, could limit the percentage of Americans who opt to take it.

The avalanche of jarring coronavirus news in recent weeks has almost become overwhelming. Not only are infections on the rise — there were 181,000 new cases this past Friday — dozens of states across the country are also seeing a massive spike in both coronavirus-related deaths and hospitalizations. What’s more, with winter creeping up around the corner, health experts are anticipating the death toll is liable to increase drastically. According to one projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine., the coronavirus death toll could reach 430,000 by March of 2021 in a worst-case scenario.

Amidst all of the bad news, though, there’s finally some good news on the horizon. Last week, Pfizer announced a coronavirus vaccine that is 90% effective at preventing a COVID-19 infection. And if that weren’t encouraging enough, Moderna over the weekend announced that its own vaccine is 94.5% effective at preventing COVID-19 infections. What’s more, there’s a strong possibility that vaccine doses will become available as early as mid-December for some Americans.

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So does the arrival of a coronavirus vaccine mean that the pandemic will soon be in our collective rear view mirror?

Not necessarily.

As Dr. Fauci explained recently, conquering the pandemic will require that a majority of Americans take the vaccine.

“If we get the overwhelming majority of people taking the vaccine and you have on the one hand an effective vaccine and a high degree of uptake of the vaccine,” Fauci said. “We could start getting things back to relative normal as we get into the second and third quarter of the year, where people can start doing things that were too dangerous just months ago.”

As promising as this all is, the sad reality is that many Americans may not be inclined to take a new coronavirus vaccine. Recall, a Pew Research poll from September found that 49% of Americans were hesitant to take a coronavirus vaccine due to concerns regarding side effects. What’s more, a new study from First Draft News relays that an abundance of misinformation — with some stories veering into conspiracy theory territory — may also dissuade Americans from trusting a vaccine should it become available in the near future.

“While scientists are frantically working to manufacture a safe and effective vaccine for Covid-19, online misinformation has contributed to many people’s reluctance across the globe to take a vaccine to protect them from the virus,” the report reads. “We have reached a pivotal and hypersensitive crossroads where increasing rates of vaccine skepticism may not only jeopardize the effectiveness of a potential Covid-19 vaccine, but that of vaccines more broadly, and even levels of trust in institutions connected to science and medicine.”

The report identifies a handful of reasons that help drive misinformation about vaccines. Aside from fringe conspiracy theories that hold that the coronavirus is a “scamdemic,” researchers found a lot of misinformation that centered on vaccine safety along with misleading information pertaining to the economic motives and factors behind vaccine development. There are also people online who claim that a coronavirus vaccine will diminish civil liberties and personal freedoms to the extent that “mandatory vaccines” will enable the Government to exert control over the entire country.

That absurdity aside, concerns regarding the political and economic motives of the coronavirus vaccine tend to be the most prominent. Some of the narratives under this umbrella include the following:

  • Concentrated financial interests drive vaccine development and undermine its safety
  • Bill Gates, and institutions and vaccines associated with him, cannot be trusted
  • Leaders are promoting vaccines for political gains
  • Corrupt governments and media outlets serve as mouthpieces for Big Pharma
  • Governments and media are manipulating coronavirus fears to advance a pro-vaccine agenda
  • Politicians, institutions, and governments are incompetent and cannot be trusted
  • Free-market capitalism, not socialism, is facilitating the development of a Covid-19 vaccine

One of the underlying problems with the aforementioned misinformation is that there’s simply an abundance of news sources out there and some individuals are unable to distinguish fact from fiction.

“When people can’t easily access reliable information around vaccines and when mistrust in actors and institutions related to vaccines is high, misinformation narratives rush in to fill the vacuum,” the report notes. “The findings should act as a wake-up call as the world waits for a Covid-19 vaccine and sees routine immunization rates drop.”

With the coronavirus pandemic literally getting worse with each passing week, one can only hope that trust in science will prevail and that most Americans will, in fact, get a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available.

The study can be viewed in its entirety over here.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.