By Lynn Bonner NC POLICY WATCH
Vaccines heralded as the way to keep so many from dying from COVID-19 complications and as the path to eased pandemic restrictions are likely just days from initial distribution.
But even as new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations soar, significant numbers of people say in surveys that they won’t take a vaccine when the FDA approves it.
Fewer than half of North Carolina residents who responded to an Elon University Poll released Thursday said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine if it is approved by the FDA.
The 40.5% who said they would take a vaccine represents an increase from the 33% who said in an October poll they would take it. The proportion of people who said they would not take a vaccine has dropped from 25% in October to 20.5% in the online survey of 1,390 North Carolina adults from Dec. 4 – 6.
The Elon poll showed differences along race and gender lines. Twenty-seven percent of Black respondents said they would take a vaccine, while 43% of white respondents said they would. One-third of the women who answered the poll said they would take a vaccine, while 48% of men said they would take it.
A national survey by the Pew Research Center in November found 60% of respondents said they would definitely or probably take a vaccine.
At a news conference Thursday morning, Dr. Mandy Cohen, NC Department of Health and Human Services secretary, discussed the details of how the vaccines are created and approved. She said there will be a “robust communications plan” in the spring and summer about them. That’s when vaccines are expected to be more widely available.
The state is doing focus group testing to figure out what people know about vaccines and the source of their wariness, she said. Cohen said she has already recorded a public service announcement for long-term care workers and people who have family in long-term care facilities.
Federal money to help spread the word, and ideas for telling the public about vaccines will be important, Cohen said, because messages need to be consistent.
“I think that coordination between the federal government, the state government and all of our partners – that we are all giving good quality, high quality, consistent and simple information to everyone about vaccines – I think that’s going to be really important,” she said.
Federal regulators are on the cusp of authorizing two coronavirus vaccines, one made by Pfizer/BioNTech, and the other by Moderna.
Two doses are necessary, and there’s no mixing and matching. The first dose of the Moderna vaccine should be followed about 28 days later with a second dose of Moderna. The Pfizer vaccine calls for two doses about three weeks apart.
Vaccines are going to be free to everyone. Insurance companies or the federal government will pick up administrative costs, Cohen said.
The vaccines do not have the COVID-19 virus in them, Cohen said.
“Although the vaccines were developed quickly, they were built upon years of scientific work in developing vaccines for similar viruses,” Cohen said. “More than 70,000 people participated in clinical trials for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to see if they were safe and effective, and preliminary data shows that they are nearly 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 with minimal safety concerns.”
While the state waits for vaccine distributions, new coronavirus cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations are breaking records.
DHHS reported a record 2,444 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday, with 97% of hospitals reporting.
A New York Times analysis of ICU space found hospitals in some counties near or at capacity.
Cohen said hospitals are feeling the strain.
“While we are able to currently manage our capacity at this point, as we’ve seen in other states, things can escalate quickly.”
Hospitalizations are what’s called a “lagging indicator” meaning that people who are admitted with COVID-19 symptoms were infected days before.
“I’m concerned where we’re going to be as a state in two to three weeks from now,” Cohen said. “We are on a dangerous course. This virus is highly contagious, but we can slow it down if we act now.”