Johns Hopkins, USF team up to research why people are hesitant to get COVID-19 vaccine

Posted at 6:39 AM, Oct 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-20 08:39:31-04

TAMPA, Fla. — As we get closer to a COVID-19 vaccine, there are more and more people who say they'd refuse to get one.

Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital and the University of South Florida are launching a new project to figure out why some people are hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. They're creating tailored messages to different vulnerable populations.

"We feel like we have these wonderful stakeholders who connect with these populations that this project will really be meaningful," said Dr. Raquel Hernandez, Director of Johns Hopkins All Children's program in Pediatric Health and Equity Research.

Experts say one reason people are skeptical is that it's a unique vaccine since it's been politicized in terms of who is in charge of the decision making.

"Standard vaccines is entirely led by our scientists and our infectious disease doctors, and I think that we as a nation have seen a very different conversation about this vaccine and so that has resulted in kind of a complex series of conversations that will make it challenging to have this vaccine be as effective as we want it to be," said Hernandez.

Doctors say people are opposed to the vaccine for various reasons.

Doctors say some people worry they'd be like guinea pigs if they got the COVID-19 vaccine.

"You don't have to be the guinea pig, so that's the good news is that the process of vetting a vaccine is such that several populations and waves of human subjects have already been given this vaccine," Hernandez said.

"The process is truly such validation before it actually goes to the public. The safety of these products is really incredible. So, is it perfect? No. But that's been the case for all of the vaccines that all of us have had since we were kids."

The project stemmed from a community research advisory board with a diverse group of community organizations.

It will use big data from Twitter and other social media channels to track conversations and keywords related to vaccine concerns and take them back to Tampa Bay communities.

"We connect with these communities, specifically the Latinx and African American populations that are either underinsured or uninsured and really target them to say is this your concern? And then we'll take that information to create more tailored messages so we can address and anticipate those concerns in a more genuine and effective way," said Hernandez.

Experts say change has to come from understanding the unique conversations that are happening around this vaccine.

"It's going to be complicated to have these populations understand the importance of this vaccine if we don't reach out to them and ask them what's on their mind about this vaccine," said Hernandez.

"We really think this idea of using social media in combination with that one on one connectivity, to then have what would be sort of an ideal health campaign surrounding a COVID vaccine," she added.

Doctors say getting as many people vaccinated as possible is crucial because the COVID-19 vaccine's effectiveness will depend on it.

"The more reservation and the delay that we have in populations getting vaccinated will really just prolong how long it takes before we can really say we're recovering from this pandemic," said Hernandez.

She says if many people don't get vaccinated, it will really make it challenging for the vaccine to work for anyone.

"Trust in the intent of this vaccine for all of us to be healthier individuals. That is really the goal for all of us. We're all affected as physicians and scientists, and so the more of us that understand that this is a valuable, valuable health product for us, the better off we'll all be," said Hernandez.

Researchers are learning people who've gotten COVID-19 only have immunity for a limited period of time.

"Very similar to the flu, we will likely anticipate that this vaccine will need to be seasonal, meaning that we'll have to have likely recurrent vaccinations to make sure that level of immunity is persistent," said Hernandez.

Experts say that's why this is one of the largest public health concerns they have right now.

Hernandez says it's incredibly important for people to have the right information about vaccines.

Check out the CDC website for more details.