The year 2020 was the Year of the Rat in the Chinese horoscope. If you are like me, looks like the Chinese got that one right. What’s the sign for 2021, you may ask; it is the Year of the Ox. According to the Chinese horoscope, the Ox is a dependable and resilient animal that can be relied upon all the time. Therefore, this year is synonymous with hard work, determination, strength, and resilience to achieve the things that you want to accomplish in life. That sounds much better to me than what the rat did. If I were making a zodiac sign for 2021, it would be the Year of the Needle. With the rollout of the first two COVID-19 vaccines, there is much optimism that this is the first step in bringing this pandemic to an end — that the population will take the “jab” with that “needle” leading to immunity throughout the land.
It has been great hearing from allergists around the country getting their first COVID-19 vaccine. Receiving the vaccination is probably the best present one could get during the holidays. But what happens when the vaccinations move from the health care personnel, nursing home patients, and the elderly? What will be the uptake in the general U.S. population? I guess the key phrase for the new year is “vaccine hesitancy.”
You have probably heard many of the conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. One falsehood that does not want to die is that the U.S. government and Bill Gates have placed a microchip inside the vaccine so you can be tracked. Another myth is that the vaccination card that everyone receives to keep track of their doses will be used to control people and restrict admittance to businesses or countries. A Facebook post claims: “The new vaccine for COVID-19… will literally alter your DNA. It will wrap itself into your system. You will essentially become a genetically modified human being.” There is so much mistrust of government and science today that it is not surprising that there is so much suspicion surrounding the vaccines.
Also, we’ve had the media reporting on allergic reactions to Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. At times, it sounded like everyone who got jabbed was going into anaphylaxis. In reality, it appears that some of these reactions were not allergic. All are being investigated. We in the allergy community know that allergic reactions can occur with vaccines, but they are very rare, probably in the range of one out of a million injections. Yes, it is alarming to hear about any case of anaphylaxis, especially when we are not completely sure of the cause in the vaccine. The good news is that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is going to perform a study to try to determine the etiology and the true risk in the population.
What can you, the allergist, do to ensure that Americans know the benefits and risks associated with the COVID-19 vaccines? We must be the choice for reliable information. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor: December 2020, you are more trusted as a source of truthful information on COVID-19 vaccines than any other group. In fact, you are more trustworthy than Dr. Fauci, President-elect Biden, and President Trump on this issue.
How do we overcome vaccine hesitancy? We need to listen to our patients. Having some skepticism is a good thing, especially when these vaccines were given emergency approval so quickly. In fact, until I went over the FDA briefings on the two mRNA vaccines, I was not 100% sure I would take it myself.
We cannot be condescending when addressing our patients’ concerns about the vaccines. Certain groups, such as African-Americans, may be more distrusting of the vaccine, especially with their past history in the U.S., such as in the case of the Tuskegee syphilis study. We need to communicate clearly the benefits, the risks, and what we don’t know about the vaccines, so that our patients can make informed decisions as to whether to get one or not. Our schooling in immunology makes us uniquely qualified to explain the vaccines’ role in preventing COVID-19 infections and stopping the resulting deaths.
My hope for 2021 is that this is the “Year of the Needle” and that millions of Americans get the “needle” and are protected from COVID-19.