Vaccines have played a critical role in reducing and eliminating the threat of many devastating infectious diseases and helped people of all ages live longer, healthier lives. Yet, today, people are reluctant to be vaccinated and are concerned about the safety of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Why?
The reasons patients refuse, delay or are hesitant to get vaccinated are often concerns over safety, the desire for more information and a growing mistrust of institutions. In particular, misinformation about vaccines has left many questions about their efficacy, safety and necessity. The following information hopefully provides the “Truth about Vaccines,” and the importance of being vaccinated.
Vaccines: Many dangerous or deadly diseases are now preventable due to vaccines. Through the use of vaccines, smallpox has been eradicated, polio and measles nearly eliminated, and infectious diseases like diphtheria, shingles and whooping cough are at an all-time low. The recent introduction of the human papilloma virus vaccine has changed the trajectory of cervical cancer.
Safety: Vaccines undergo a rigorous approval and monitoring process before being approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Before a vaccine is licensed, the FDA reviews all aspects of its development, including where and how a vaccine is made, and conducts ongoing studies in people who received the vaccine. The U.S. has the best post-licensure surveillance system in the world, in which vaccines are constantly monitored by the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies to ensure vaccines are safe and effective.
Potential: Refusal to take vaccines is a missed opportunity for improving public health. Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services issued an emergency directive allowing pharmacists in all 50 states to offer childhood vaccinations and is working to ensure parents are aware of the importance of vaccinations.
Education: Education, combined with accurate facts from trustworthy sources, is the key to equipping patients, caregivers and health care decision-makers with the information they need regarding the safety and effectiveness of vaccines — including doctor’s offices, pharmacies and biopharma companies providing credible information on the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. Just as importantly, the media needs to report objective facts around the rigorous FDA approval process and importance of vaccines and being vaccinated.
COVID-19 vaccines — safety is the highest priority of the FDA. Even with the urgent public-health demand for speed and accelerated timelines to develop a coronavirus vaccine, there can be no compromise in terms of safety and efficacy. COVID-19 vaccines will only be effective if the public recognizes their value, believes in their safety, has meaningful access to them and is willing to take them!
Call to action: Vaccines are one of the most important, safe and effective public health tools available to prevent a variety of diseases. Vaccinations will improve public health and reduce health care costs over time. All health care stakeholders need to be engaged in promoting the safety, efficacy and importance of vaccines and being vaccinated … because patients can’t wait.
Debbie Hart is the CEO and president of BioNJ.