UW News

January 8, 2021

COVID-19 vaccines are ‘remarkable achievement,’ but soothing mistrust is necessary to end pandemic

UW News

“Of course, we didn’t put Democrats in the vial; we didn’t put Republicans in the vial,” University of Washington’s Dr. Larry Corey writes in a recent COVID-19 Vaccine Matters blog jointly produced by Johns Hopkins University and the UW.

While development of vaccines now being distributed to combat COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are a “remarkable achievement” that demonstrate the power of science to save lives, mistrust and fear continue to cause nearly 40% of Americans to say they would be unlikely to get vaccinated.

Larry Corey

Larry Corey

Some of that mistrust stems from before the pandemic, but unfortunate politicization of COVID-19 vaccine development is also to blame. When the current administration jumped in to claim credit for the rapid development of the vaccines, that act personalized the science behind its creation.

“By personalizing it, it became politicized. It created an odd discord, as if science – and what is in a vial – had something to do with whether you’re a Republican or Democrat,” writes Corey.

Also, the administration put an enormous amount of funding into the rapid development of vaccines, but then named the effort Operation Warp Speed. And, says Corey, speed in medical scientific development “is not something we associate with positive outcomes.”

So, given the historic mistrust of vaccinations, the politicization of COVID-19 vaccines and an unfortunate project name, vaccine hesitancy is understandable. And yet the pandemic rages on. How, then, to bridge the divide between jubilation at the production of incredibly successful vaccines and mistrust?

“It will take work by all of us – in the scientific community and in the broader public. It will take hard work to convey the importance of vaccination. It will take time to rebuild trust across the divide. And it will take a public open to healing discourse; a public who remains curious and eager to know more as we learn more. Because we will,” Corey writes.

To read this and other articles by Corey and other experts, visit the COVID-19 Vaccine Matters blog series created by Johns Hopkins and the UW as an outcome of the joint symposium — Preserving the Scientific Integrity of Getting to COVID-19 Vaccines: From Clinical Trials to Public Allocation — the two universities hosted in October.

Dr. Larry Corey is an internationally renowned expert in virology, immunology and vaccine development and a leader of the COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN), which was formed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health to respond to the global pandemic. He is a professor of medicine and virology at UW School of Medicine and a professor in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division and past president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.