SALT LAKE CITY — On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said he is "cautiously optimistic that we will, in fact, have a safe and effective vaccine (for COVID-19) by the end of the year, which we can begin to distribute as we go into 2021."
Good news, right? Except trust in the vaccine is hard to come by, according to a recent study.
A Qualtrics study released this week showed that 40% of respondents were either unsure or not planning on getting the vaccine once it becomes available. Of that group, 91% said they didn't think it would be safe enough and 90% said they would have concerns about side effects. So where is the distrust coming from?
In early September, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox tweeted a plea into the universe: "Let's pray we never have another global pandemic ... but if we do, let's pray it's not during an election year."
The vaccine, like so many other things, has turned into a political argument. That was seen Thursday when President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden squabbled over the vaccine timeline in the final presidential debate.
The president said: "It's going to be announced within weeks. And it's going to be delivered." Biden responded by going through a list of the times the president's virus timelines were inaccurate. Biden said he would "make sure it's totally transparent," and "have the scientists of the world see it, know it, and go through all the processes."
The vaccine is something that each side is using to try and win points in an election year, so it's no surprise that public trust in a potential vaccine is lacking. With companies and scientists attempting to get a vaccine to market in record time — years faster than the average pace for development — it only adds to the uncertainty.
COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in Utah — Thursday and Friday were back-to-back record-shattering days — and in the country, which means a lack of confidence in a vaccine could be especially troubling.
"Not only are people apprehensive about it but not in our lifetime, maybe in the world, have we had to embark on a worldwide vaccination project. So this is on an entirely new scale for history," Chelsie Bright, the global industry leader of the public sector at Qualtrics, said.
Qualtrics has designed a vaccine management program to help governments deliver the COVID-19 vaccine efficiently to their communities. The program is an automated workflow the company claims will help prioritize which at-risk residents should receive the vaccine first, schedule appointments and follow-ups, and provide a record of vaccination after it has been administered. The hope is it will also allow governments to monitor the capability, impact and reach of the vaccine.
People are going to have to have confidence. And the only way to do that is, first of all, understand what concerns people have, and then be responsive to that feedback.
–Chelsie Bright, global industry leader of the public sector at Qualtrics
The Provo-based company is currently in talks with state governments for the service. Qualtrics has a current contract with the state of Utah to provide "management software as a service for the state of Utah," but KSL.com has been told that the vaccine management program would not fall under that contract.
"We have just signed up a couple, but we haven't made the announcements," Bright said. "We are in conversations with over a dozen other states right now. It's the really early stages, for most states, right now as they are figuring it out."
Distributing the vaccine will be a big undertaking, but the most important step right now may be gaining trust. Even if a vaccine is ready, what good will it be if no one is willing to take it?
"People are going to have to have confidence," Bright said. "And the only way to do that is, first of all, understand what concerns people have, and then be responsive to that feedback."
The Qualtrics survey found that 81% of responders were more likely to get the vaccine if a doctor recommended it.
That makes the message pretty clear: keep the politics out of it.