oronavirus vaccine news from Pfizer and Moderna brought us the joy we needed to enter this holiday season. Still, recent polls show that over 50% of Americans would not take a COVID vaccine. If 70% of America doesn’t get the vaccine, we could be reliving 2020 for at least five years.
The solution? A vaccine stimulus.
You might be thinking that after everything the country has been through, people would line up to be vaccinated to get life back to normal. But the epidemic of misinformation and the “politicization of everything” — fueled the psyche of self-reliance, stockpiling, and suspicion in the American people. That growing, widespread anti-science and anti-authority sentiment in parts of society allowed anti-vaxxer groups to gain some steam.
While poorer nations worry about getting any anti-COVID vaccine, one-third of Americans and 47% of Republicans said they would not take a COVID vaccine at all in recent research. To them, there’s mistrust in drug developers, doubt on the vaccine approval process, and an overall anti-science feeling. Adding to that, 15 million people are unemployed and have lost their health care plans. How will they get access to the vaccine?
With this much of the population on the line, I’m concerned the coronavirus will continue to be a problem for several years, not months, because it will take umpteen times for us to reach collective immunity to the coronavirus. Imagine a life of constant opening-and-reopening of local businesses, frequent school closures, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives. The cost of half of the population not getting immunized is too high, and we can’t afford it.
So, how do we ensure enough of the population is vaccinated to get back to normal finally? There needs to be an incentive as part of the stimulus plan. A vaccine stimulus program that addresses both the need to get people immunized and simultaneously addresses the lack of health insurance is the way to go. That would suffice until the new administration has time to articulate and pass the health care reform that millions of citizens voted for during the elections.
For example, a new National Health-insurance Emergency Act could allow every one of the 330 million Americans to receive emergency health insurance coverage without fear of surprise medical bills. A government-funded health care plan for another year would allow those who have lost jobs during the pandemic to be vaccinated.
Marshaling a collective response to the coronavirus is not an easy task. But we do know that national vaccination mandates and tactics to compel vaccinations in more intrusive ways, like limiting access to services or jobs, have never worked in this country. It would be hard-fought by those rugged individuals. Instead, we need to incentivize them to get on board for the collective good or fear an ever-present problem for years to come.
Dr. Leo Nissola is a San Francisco-based physician and scientist whose work focuses on understanding immunodeficiencies and fighting advanced-stage cancers with immunotherapy. Follow him on Twitter @LeoNissolaMD