NYU Bioethics Expert Discusses Vaccine Hesitancy

Vaccine hesitancy remains an issue among conservatives across the United States, according to the latest Morning Consult poll.

With 45.1 percent of the country fully vaccinated against COVID-19, rates for some conservative-leaning states are lower than the national average.

Photo of the COVID-19 Vaccine (Courtesy: MGN)

This comes as the Delta variant poses an ominous threat of case increases, especially in vulnerable regions of the U.S.

New York University‘s Arthur Caplan, PhD, founder of its medical school‘s division of medical ethics, weighed in on this ongoing issue.

“Something happened with this vaccine and this disease that has never happened before,” he said. “It became political.”

Dr. Caplan believes that former President Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic created divisiveness towards the disease.

“If you accepted COVID, you were a Democrat, and you took steps to protect yourself,” he said. “If you were a Republican, you followed Trump.”

This divide, according to Caplan, now extends to the vaccination phase of the pandemic.

Hesitancy Still Concern for Republicans, African Americans

Former President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed was partly responsible for the rapid creation of effective COVID-19 vaccines. Despite his efforts, 40 percent of Republicans reported skepticism and resistance towards receiving a vaccine.

The highest share of skepticism towards the vaccine comes from Republican women, with 46 percent.

Vaccine hesitancy also remains a concern for African Americans. The percentage of those polled by Morning Consult who were skeptical is also 40 precent.

New Jersey real estate agent Amira Williams received the Johnson & Johnson shot in April.

She was apprehensive about the rapid pace of creating and distributing the vaccines. d the Johnson & Johnson shot in April. A doctor’s visit convinced her that all the vaccines were safe and effective.

“I am fortunate enough to have a personal doctor that I am close to,” she said. “Pretty early on, I said when she tells me it is okay, then I will be comfortable doing it.”

She believes that while hesitancy is an issue in communities of color, lack of access to the vaccine is also a barrier in being able to fully vaccinate poor minority communities.

Dr. Caplan believes lack of access to the vaccine is a barrier for poor communities in general.

“Why people are puzzled as to why we have had a hard time reaching the poor with COVID vaccines makes no sense to me,” he said. “It stinks. Convenient access to medical care is poor.”

Incentives, Mandates Create Controversy

No concrete data shows how effective vaccine incentives announced by states and businesses have been in increasing vaccination rates.

Dr. Caplan is shocked by how certain entities have to resort to incentivizing vaccinations.

“It is surprising to me that we have to bribe people,” he said. “I am sorry that people won’t do the right thing, because it is the right thing.”

Still, he is not totally against the idea.

“It gets your attention going and that is good,” he said. “I think the goal is get there and get rid of the virus or at least bring it down to tolerable levels and get there before new strains break out, so whatever it takes for it.”

The climb towards herd immunity is quite steep. Experts estimate that 65 to 80 precent of people would need to be fully vaccinated for the country to reach this threshold.

At current projections, we would reach that threshold by mid-fall of this year.

A key barrier to herd immunity is the issue of mandating statewide vaccines.

This is not unconstitutional. The 1904 Jacobson vs. Massachusetts decision allowed for public health officials to mandate vaccines as a way to protect the health of citizens.

In New York, a statewide mandate for all eligible has not gone into effect.

“We forget this is unprecedented, to try and mount a universal campaign to get all adults vaccinated,” said Dr. Caplan.

While he acknowledges that vaccination is ultimately a personal choice, he believes most employers should start mandating their workforce to be vaccinated.

“I think employers should be mandating now, even though the vaccines are still out there under emergency use,” he said. “We have tons of evidence that they work.”

Published by Mallika Rao

Freelance Writer, Blogger

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