Medical Matters: Covid vaccine hesitancy

written by Scally McDaid Roarty May 10, 2021

In his column today, Dr Ciarán Roarty from Scally McDaid Roarty Medical Practice discusses some of the issues around the Covid Vaccine.

I’m not sure about this Covid Vaccine. What do you think Doctor?

After a slow start this country’s Covid vaccination programme is powering ahead. GP practices alone have delivered almost half the total number of vaccines delivered to date. GPs, nurses and all of our administrative staff and team members are really proud of the work we are doing to help fight this terrible disease which has plagued our country for the past while.

The roll-out is extending and already GP practices are vaccinating high-risk patients and hopefully soon moving on to assist in the roll out of vaccines on an age basis similar to the large vaccination centres. This country’s target of offering vaccines to 80% of the adult population by the end of June is ambitious but key to our success in fighting this terrible virus.

Most of us are delighted to get the word – your vaccine is coming. How many Facebook posts show a delighted person with their vaccination card? Although no vaccine is absolutely 100% effective and both doses are needed (if recommended by the Pharmaceutical company), they do significantly reduce rates of hospitalisation, death and serious illness. They are a major part of our drive to get back to a normal life.
However, there are some people who are not enamoured with the idea of getting a Covid 19 vaccine.

Why are some people hesitant about the vaccine?

Some people are worried about side effects. Others about the speed of its development. “But it’s so new doctor?” There is also a lot of misinformation out there which they may have read or seen. Others are distrustful of our healthcare system in general, wondering is it really needed or will it actually work. The reasons are complex and vary between different groups of people and even about different vaccines. Maybe a previous bad experience with vaccines or a lack of trust in the government, the HSE or healthcare professionals in general might be guiding a person’s fears.
The reasons why someone might be hesitant about a vaccine are often personal and highly sensitive. But the more people refuse a vaccine, the less able we will be to get this pandemic under control. Leaving yourself unprotected may increase your chances of infection as well as people who are unable to receive the vaccine. This all makes the topic very emotive and proposals like vaccine passports to travel abroad or get into concerts etc stir up strong opinions on both sides.

Is the vaccine safe?

Vaccine manufacturers and national and European regulators are constantly monitoring the safety, quality and efficacy of vaccines, just like they would for any drug. The Covid 19 vaccine used technological advances which were developed in the treatment of other conditions such as hepatitis and whooping cough.

People worry about the speed with which the vaccines were developed. Previous research however, along with the sheer scale of the project allowed some of the usual procedures to happen faster than usual, but without any effect of safety. For example, it often takes months or years to recruit enough people to enter a drug trial study, but with Covid 19, hundreds of thousands of people agreed to be part of the various studies within a few months. Regulators prioritised Covid 19 vaccine trial reviews over others so that they could perform their usual in-depth detailed analysis in a fraction of the time.

What about the rare blood clot called a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis?

This has concerned a lot of people as it has been linked with the Astra Zenica vaccine and Johnston vaccine. The actual risk is somewhere between 1 in 100,000 and 1 in a million in people who have had the vaccine, depending on your age AND other risk factors. It is many times smaller than the risk of many widely used medicines and probably would not even have made media comment if the vaccine had not been under such intense scrutiny. The risk of developing the same rare blood clot is much higher if you actually contract Covid 19 and the major regulators have said that the benefits of the vaccination greatly outweigh the risk.

What can I do to persuade someone?

Well each and every one of us has a part to play. People have real and legitimate concerns and we can help persuade people to get a vaccine. Some misconceptions are easily corrected and people are often receptive to hearing new information that might allay their fears.
In short, if you or your family member or friend are not sure about the vaccine, go to a trusted website, like hse.ie. Talk to trusted healthcare professionals like doctors, nurses, pharmacists etc. It is easy to be judgemental and try to force a binary yes/no decision on someone, but we should listen to people’s concerns in a non-confrontational manner and try to address them or guide them to trusted sources of information if we can.

There are some anti-vaxx arguments which are harder to address. For example, some people (though in fairness not many) believe that Bill Gates wants to microchip everyone and this is his way of doing it. It is still worth discussing however and finding out the source of someone’s information.

The most important thing to remember is to be curious about people’s viewpoint and not to come to the discussion with all guns blazing in a very judgemental fashion. You might not persuade everyone but remember vaccines are a fantastic tool to help us get an infectious disease outbreak under control and the more people who will accept a vaccine the better.

The above information is intended as advice only and should you have any concerns please contact your own Doctor.

Dr Ciarán Roarty MB, BCh BAO MICGP DRCOG Grad. Cert. Obst. Ultrasound
is a full-time GP at Scally McDaid Roarty Medical Practice , Scally Place, Letterkenny, Tel 0749164111
www.scallys.ie

Dr Ciaran Roarty at the Scally McDaid Roarty surgery in Letterkenny.

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