COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are considered over 90 percent effective according to clinical data. Yet there’s concern Americans may not take the vaccine or may wait to take it. Immunization experts say the vaccines will work and encourage consumers to get vaccinated.
“I’m pretty fired up about the COVID vaccine because I think the researchers and manufacturers have done a lot of excellent work to deliver a safe vaccine in a hurry,” says Mike Popovich, CEO of STChealth, a public health solutions provider and IT company working across public health and the private sector to exchange immunization data. “I think all the right people have been working the right problems, and there’s a lot of success.”
A year ago, most of us didn’t know anything about COVID-19 and now vaccines are on the horizon, expected to be on the market within weeks or a few months. Popovich credits public and private partnerships for helping develop safe vaccines so quickly. The government’s Operation Warp Speed program — with the goal of producing and delivering 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines starting by January 2021 — expeditated efforts to develop vaccines for the novel coronavirus.
“Vaccine development is typically measured in years, not months,” says Kyle Freese, Ph.D., MPH, chief epidemiologist for STChealth. “This has been just monumental achievement, no matter what way you look at it. It’s been objectively impressive.”
Manufacturers already have vaccine vials stockpiled and ready for distribution, once they get approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Popovich says the distribution logistics are in place because of existing vaccine systems.
There will be a timeline for distribution, such as providing initial vaccines to first responders and those most at-risk.
It’s also important for everyone to get both the initial vaccine and the second dose. “You likely need to complete the entire series for it to be fully effective,” says Dr. Freese.
Whether it’s a COVID-19 vaccine, a tetanus shot or other immunization, it’s important to stay current on vaccines. But it can be challenging to keeping all of that information in one place.
Often consumers get immunizations from different providers such as a pneumonia vaccine at their primary care doctor’s office, a shingles vaccine at the pharmacy, and a flu shot at a clinic.
That’s why STChealth launched MyIR Mobile in partnership with local state health departments to allow consumers to review their immunization history, get reminders for future immunizations, and print their own official records.
“The patients are going to be more empowered to make better decisions,” says Popovich.
With MyIR Mobile, consumers can access their state immunization records for free, and without having to contact their doctor’s office to request it. They can print out official immunization certificates to prove vaccinations, such as for a child at school, or for those who need to prove they’ve received a vaccine in order to travel. Already airlines are indicating proof of COVID-19 vaccinations will be required for international travel, once vaccines are approved.
The app is currently available in Arizona, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Washington state, and West Virginia. Popovich says they’re working to add additional state immunization programs to the app.
STChealth is one of the companies that will be tracking COVID-19 vaccinations. Their Data Exchange Network processes an average of 1 million immunization records every day and enriches data across multiple systems, helping to improve data quality and create consolidated immunization records for individual patients. The vaccination data helps close gaps in care.
“We as a company are in this position to really help capture this information and then bring immunization intelligence back to individuals, pharmacists, public health, and the vaccine manufacturers so you can measure and monitor,” says Popovich, who’s been in the vaccine industry for 30 years.
While he says consumers should have confidence in the vaccine, many say they don’t want it. According to a poll of over 1,500 U.S. adults ages 50 to 80, only 20 percent say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible; 46 percent say they would like to get it, but they will wait until others receive it; 20 percent are unsure; and 14 percent so they don’t want it.
Consumers may be hesitant because the vaccine is new and they worry about side effects, but indications from the clinical trials show no major adverse reactions. The vaccines will be free, removing another barrier. Plus, they’re going to be available at major pharmacies.
Still, many are concerned about how fast vaccines have been developed.
“Essentially the entire scientific community has thrown their entire weight behind this effort,” says Dr. Freese. “I think, maybe it’s just kind of still a shock for people that we’ve been able to develop something that quickly.”
He says COVID-19 has been a “teachable moment” for Americans, helping us realize the importance of a robust public health system. He says researchers were able to quickly develop a vaccine based on research they’ve done in past years from SARS and MERS, similar pathogens to COVID-19. They’re using the same protocols that they’ve used for other vaccines. The ultimate goal has always been about safety and efficacy.
He’s confident the vaccines are safe and will be effective.
“The research findings are very promising. I’ll be in line to take the vaccine and will encourage my family as well because this is what’s going to help us get back to some semblance of normal,” he says.
Popovich says there’s a lot of misinformation about vaccines and distrust in the system. He says vaccinations have become so politicized but they don’t need to be. Instead he encourages consumers to talk with their doctors and pharmacists to make the best decision for themselves and their families.
“If you’re protected, you’re protecting everybody around you,” he says. “Your own social network is being protected if you’re doing the right thing.”
To sign up for MyIR Mobile or get more information: https://myirmobile.com/