The Pitt prescription | Exploring vaccine reluctance and COVID-19 booster injections
The Pitt Prescription is a bi-weekly blog where Elizabeth Donnelly, student pharmacist and editor, gives tips on how to stay healthy in college. This edition has been reviewed by Karen Pater, PharmD., CDCES, BCACP.
Reluctance to vaccination is one of the biggest The factors public health impact and vaccine deployment in the United States. There is a lot of disinformation about vaccines online and on social media that can cause people to avoid receiving them, especially COVID-19 vaccines.
Several tendencies on sites like TikTok have shown people claiming magnets stick to them after being vaccinated, and while some people admit it’s not real, others can’t. These kinds of careless tendencies, even if made as a joke, contribute significantly to vaccine reluctance.
Health literacy and education are a obstacle in the United States, with more than a third of American adults recognized as having low health literacy. Health literacy is defined such as how well a person can obtain and understand basic health information in order to make appropriate and safe health decisions. Given the number of adults who do not have this knowledge, public health initiatives like mass vaccination efforts are much more difficult to carry out.
As mentioned earlier, social media and the internet are huge factors when looking at health literacy. There is a wealth of knowledge on the Internet, but individuals should use reliable and impartial sources to access this factual information. Unfortunately, there are plenty of platforms that spread not only false, but downright dangerous information about medicine, the pandemic, and health in general. Reluctance to immunize has increased dramatically throughout the pandemic due to misinformation being disseminated online.
The CDC has a tool which estimates the percentage of people who are reluctant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and there are several regions of the country with a reluctance rate of over 20%. Many of these places are in rural communities where there are not as many resources for people to improve their health literacy. In these communities, strong political and religious ideologies are also common and, unfortunately, can also impact the health literacy of citizens and cause them to hesitate to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Since August 27, the United States has reported a total of 367,316,149 doses of vaccine administered with 172,731,027 people considered to be fully vaccinated. At 52%, that’s just over half of the population, indicating that there is serious work to be done to give their doses to unvaccinated people and help educate those who are reluctant to get vaccinated.
It is important to realize that public health and the protection of yourself and others is not a political statement. In the United States, the whole pandemic has become politicized, and it is ultimately harming people in several ways. The CDC and the WHO are both politically unaffiliated institutions that aim to promote public health and safety. They have experts with knowledge based on scientific facts, and it is imperative that the general population heeds their advice. New information is emerging about the virus and its variants every day, which can be confusing for some as it means that the guidelines can be changed to accommodate new information.
A prime example is the new direction for a third injection of one of the mRNA vaccines available in the United States, Moderna and Pfizer. Many people don’t realize that these COVID-19 vaccines, although newly developed, are similar to many previous vaccines in that they require booster shots and their effectiveness wanes over time. Several vaccines, especially those received in childhood, require multiple and / or booster doses. For Example, hepatitis B vaccine is given as a three-dose series and pneumococcal vaccine is a four-dose series. As more information and data is released, health officials need to make adjustments to ensure that they are taking care of the public in the best possible way, which is why they can go back or modify previous directives.
New advice for booster doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines was announced Aug. 18 by public health and medical experts in conjunction with the CDC. This statement explained that vaccines become slightly less effective at preventing disease over time, so a booster could be helpful in improving individuals’ immune responses and further protecting them against disease.
The recommended schedule is to add this booster dose eight months after receiving the second dose of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, or eight months after the third dose for people who are immunocompromised. There are currently no new updates for people who received the J&J vaccine, as it was released much later than the mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer. In addition, the Pfizer vaccine has recently been fully approved by the FDA, which will hopefully provide more reassurance to individuals that it is safe to receive it.
Ultimately, it is extremely important to note that while there have been reductions in vaccine efficacy against asymptomatic and mild cases of COVID-19, the main population leading the current outbreak is those unvaccinated individuals. Vaccination hesitation combined with poor health literacy are two important factors that contribute to the large number of unvaccinated people remaining in the United States.
The pandemic is still ongoing and with the emergence of new variants, the best way for you to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated and continue to adopt safe practices like distancing and wearing a mask.
Elizabeth writes primarily on personal care and pharmacological topics. For questions, comments or concerns, you can reach her at [email protected].