COVID Vaccine: A Matter of Trust

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began almost nine months ago, people around the world have been begging for an answer to the same question: when will a vaccine be developed so we can return to our normal lives? As numerous companies begin to claim they are close to developing working vaccines, many are starting to feel hopeful about this “return to normal.” However, in an article published in July in The Atlantic, Sarah Zhang suggests that we may be asking all the wrong questions about this vaccine.

Zhang points out that just because a vaccine is developed, our lives won’t go back to how they were before COVID immediately. It’s likely the vaccine will require more than one dose to be effective, making distribution a major complication. Additionally, many Americans have already stated that they are unwilling or unsure about whether or not they would choose to receive the vaccine.

To me, this brings about a very important question of trust: at what point should we all feel comfortable getting vaccinated? Who should we trust for the most accurate information about the safety and effectiveness of such a vaccine? The entire pandemic has become extremely politicized, and many people feel a great level of distrust towards our current leadership, consequently saying that they wouldn’t get the vaccine if President Trump told them it was safe: they’d prefer to hear it from a doctor. While those feelings are valid, I don’t think they should change depending on who is in office.

Politicians and physicians are two completely different occupations, and the line between them has been blurred to a point that could be detrimental for many Americans. There is a tremendous safety risk in taking medical advice from a politician, whether it be one you agree with on other issues or not. This is not the job they have been trained or elected to do. For any medical issue, especially one on this large of a scale, nobody should be taking any COVID vaccine until it’s been approved by medical experts. Politicians encouraging people to take vaccines not backed by medical professionals is a violation of informed consent. By using their power and influence over citizens who are otherwise uninformed on the subject, these politicians have the means to convince people to receive a vaccine that has not been proven as safe.

As we get closer and closer to finding a vaccine, it’s important to decide where the line can be drawn: at what point in time can we feel safe receiving brand-new medicines like this vaccine? Who can we fully trust to give us the most accurate information regarding the vaccine’s safety? Should government leaders be able to declare a vaccine as “safe” with no formal medical training?

One thought on “COVID Vaccine: A Matter of Trust

  1. J. Raymond

    In their post, Leah Doubert does an excellent job summarizing the problems of COVID-19 vaccine distribution highlighted by Sarah Zhang. For a respiratory disease like COVID-19, one dose alone will probably not be effective to completely inoculate an individual. They will need one dose to let their body first build the antibodies, and then another to build their autoimmune response. This will cause a huge problem in determining who will get vaccinated first and thus a discussion on prioritizing certain groups will be necessary.

    However, as Leah mentions, this problem is somewhat overshadowed by the growing distrust Americans have for a vaccine. In July, 51% of all Americans were at least skeptical of a COVID-19 vaccine according to the Zhang article. In large part, this is due to the politicized nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has created, in my opinion, perhaps one of the most difficult environments for implementing public health measures ever seen. We have moved away from a larger ethical debate about “who” should get the vaccine to a more fundamental “should” we even get the vaccine. The ethics of the vaccine have fallen by the wayside because we are still contemplating how much we trust the leadership. There isn’t even a vaccine yet and I have heard countless conspiracy theories already seeding doubt.

    I agree with Leah in that politicians and physicians are completely different occupations and there is a huge risk in taking medical advice from, essentially, a layperson. One should always listen to the researchers who have dedicated their lives to vaccine development and not a person trying to win reelection. Subsequently, I also agree that politicians creating propaganda to get people to take vaccines not trusted by medical professionals is a violation of informed consent. They are essentially distorting the truth and making “informed” consent nearly impossible.

    That being said, this is where my ideological thinking begins to diverge from Leah’s. I disagree with their claim that your decision to get a vaccine should not change based on whoever is elected. Politicians are supposed to be leaders and help guide the public in a time of crisis. They are supposed to listen to the experts and translate the broad message to the Populace to affect positive change. Responsible politicians look to their senior medical advisors to spread a responsible message. Clearly, some administrations break from this tradition and seek to distort the truth for reelection. Distrust in the Populace is not their fault if that was intentionally seeded by the administration.

    Consequently, my biggest concern regarding the pandemic is how will public health experts remove that distrust? We will eventually develop a true vaccine that is trusted by the experts, but I worry that too much damage has been done to the public trust. Will public health experts ever be fully trusted again? What steps can they do to encourage people to get a vaccine? Can politicians and experts work together in the future to rebuild trust?


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