Facing public skepticism about rushed COVID-19 vaccines, U.S. health officials are planning extra scrutiny of the first people vaccinated when shots become available.
A new poll suggests those vaccine fears are growing. With this week's pause of a second major vaccine study because of an unexplained illness – and repeated tweets from President Donald Trump that raise the specter of politics overriding science – a quarter of Americans say they won't get vaccinated. That's a slight increase from 1 in 5 in May.
The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found only 46% of Americans want a COVID-19 vaccine and another 29% are unsure.
More striking, while Black Americans have been especially hard-hit by COVID-19, just 22% say they plan to get vaccinated compared with 48% of white Americans, the AP-NORC poll found.
“I am very concerned about hesitancy regarding COVID vaccine,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a vaccine specialist at Vanderbilt University who says even the primary care doctors who'll need to recommend vaccinations have questions.
“If the politicians would stand back and let the scientific process work, I think we'd all be better off,” he added.
Shunning a COVID-19 shot could derail efforts to end the pandemic – while any surprise safety problems after one hits the market could reverberate into distrust of other routine vaccines.
On top of rigorous final testing in tens of thousands of people, any COVID-19 vaccines cleared for widespread use will get additional safety evaluation as they're rolled out. Among plans from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Texting early vaccine recipients to check how they're feeling, daily for the first week and then weekly out to six weeks.
Any vaccine before Election Day is extremely unlikely. Over Trump's objections, the Food and Drug Administration issued clear safety and effectiveness standards that shots must meet – and Commissioner Stephen Hahn insists career scientists, not politicians, will decide each possible vaccine's fate.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, says that should be reassuring because it means scientists like himself will see all the evidence.
“So the chances of there being secret hanky-panky are almost zero, because everything is going to be transparent,” he told the AP.
Furthest along in final-stage testing in the U.S. are a vaccine candidate made by Pfizer Inc. and Germany's BioNTech, and another developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health.
Fauci says “the best bet” is that data about whether one or both work will emerge sometime in November or December.