busyfood.net – We Asked a Doctor All Our COVID-19 Vaccine Questions
Correct. One of the things I’ve heard people express concern about is that somehow the cells might incorporate this mRNA genetic material, and that it’ll remain there permanently. What’s really important to know is that the messenger RNA that is injected disintegrates. It does not become part of your genes; it’s transient.
We have been given so many reasons to distrust the previous administration, particularly regarding its handling of the pandemic. And additionally, there are many marginalized communities—Black Americans and other people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, incarcerated people—that have been either ignored or actively harmed by the “medical establishment” in the past. How can people trust the information they’re hearing about the vaccines?
There has been much damage done. Prior to January 20, we weren’t getting a lot of accurate and responsible messaging around the coronavirus from the federal government, and I think that has become embedded in people’s ideas about the vaccine. We saw an unprecedented level of political interference in the work of the FDA and the CDC, and we had leaders who did not follow the science or act in a way that was rooted in evidence. Because of this, a significant portion of the country still doesn’t think the pandemic is that serious or that masks work. There’s an abundance of misinformation, and it’s incredibly important that my physician colleagues and I get out there and that our voices are amplified so that the public can hear reliable messaging that is grounded in science.
This idea of vaccine hesitancy, I like to reframe it more as one of institutional trustworthiness. Institutions have a track record of exploiting and abusing marginalized communities. Because of the urgency of this moment, there’s a push to tell people, “Just take the vaccine,” and you really can’t do that. We have to make sure that we’re getting information out to people in a culturally responsive, deeply digestible way so that they’re able to have their questions answered by people they trust. Some people may not trust the “institution” of health care, but they do trust their individual health care providers, their nurse practitioners, their physicians. Trusted messengers in the community—faith leaders, barbers, community organizers—also do a tremendous amount of health advocacy, especially in Black communities and other communities of color.
This is what systemic racism does. It exploits and abuses, and then when it’s time for those communities who have been disproportionately impacted because of racism to seek care, people are distrustful. This history you mention—Tuskegee, Henrietta Lacks, “Mississippi appendectomies”—there is a certain percentage of the population, mostly older Black Americans who remember that. But I also think that we can’t forget about the ongoing discrimination that Black people face when they interface with the health care system today. It’s not just what’s happened in the past, it’s the present as well.
Another institution that many consider to be untrustworthy is the pharmaceutical industry, which has paid out billions of dollars in settlements for fraudulent marketing and kickbacks to health care providers. Moderna may not be considered Big Pharma—they’ve only been around for 10 years, and this vaccine is the first drug it has brought to market—but Pfizer certainly is. Why should we trust private companies when it comes to public health?
I understand the concerns, and I will say that I’m overwhelmingly convinced by the data that we’ve seen. The flu vaccine has an efficacy of between 40 and 60%, and to get emergency authorization, a vaccine needs 50% efficacy. The Moderna and Pfizer shots are 94 to 95% effective. That is almost a miracle. I continually weigh the risks and benefits, and while the institutions have proven untrustworthy in the past, we are in a situation where we can’t afford to say no to the vaccine. The only way people are going to be able to see their loved ones again, to travel, to see a newborn baby cousin is really by taking this vaccine.