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Getting immunized with a COVID-19 vaccine is a huge act of kindness to your community. 

While being vaccinated will give one a high level of personal protection against the highly infectious disease, it also helps to dampen its spread around the state.  

Unfortunately, not everyone has absorbed why vaccinations are vital. For one reason or another, they don’t want to get the shots or are hesitant about them. But polling shows the number of ambivalent people is dropping. A survey of almost 80,000 Americans by the U.S. Census last month showed 17% said they would definitely or probably not get vaccinated. That’s down from 22% in January, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.

A small subset are people who are ideologically against vaccines — anti-vaxxers — who don’t believe in them for reasons often based on misinformation or wild conspiracy theories. Despite reams of medical evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, there’s not much that can be done to persuade these folks to get their shots.

But most people unsure about vaccines are just wary, despite lots of science-based evidence. Some are waiting to see what happens. Others are worried about side effects. Others are concerned that various vaccines were developed too quickly. That’s why it’s vital for people to talk with health professionals and learn about the national effort to quell the spread of the virus through a robust vaccination program.

Dr. Marvella E. Ford, director of the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement at the Hollings Cancer Center in Charleston, meets frequently with people in communities of color to reassure them that coronavirus vaccines are safe because they’ve been through lots of trials with thousands of volunteers with multiple levels of oversight.  

“Nobody wants to make people sick,” she said. “Why would public health organizations in the United States want to administer vaccines if they were not good for people?

“Getting the vaccine isn’t about you — it’s about your children, your families, your neighbors, the people you go to church with. The question is how important are those people to you.”

People of color often have lower vaccination rates because of how they’ve been used in medical studies. Dr. J. Marion Sims, a South Carolina native, is known as the father of modern gynecology, but he remains controversial because of his 19th century surgical techniques that included operating on unanesthetized enslaved Black women. Starting in 1932, hundreds of Black men in Alabama died from untreated syphilis in a 40-year study.

But medicine operates differently now, in part because of the lessons learned in studies now considered unethical. Ford recalled a 1997 bioethics symposium at the Tuskegee Institute, the very place where the syphilis study occurred. She remembered a talk by a civil rights lawyer representing the surviving patients who said they wanted people of color to understand how their experiences led to safeguards now required in medical trial studies. 

Past sacrifices led to new practices. Medical trial studies like those with the new vaccine now require informed consent, data monitors, safety monitors, institutional review boards and more. In other words, there is significant oversight to make sure things are done right, Ford said. 

Dr. Michael D. Sweat, who is director of MUSC’s Division of Global and Community Health, said resistance to new ways of doing things or new technologies often fades over time. For example, people used to smoke in public places and drive cars without seatbelts. Public policies changed those behaviors.

“Over the years, they’ve gotten used to it and don’t think twice about it,” he said. It’s the same with the flu shot. And it likely will be the same with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ford and Sweat also agreed it’s a misconception that the new vaccines have been rushed. Rather, all sorts of manpower and money were targeted globally with an urgency for teams to apply lessons learned over years of study of coronaviruses and vaccinations.  

An estimated 45% of South Carolinians currently have immunity from COVID-19 due to natural immunity after having the disease or from vaccinations. Let’s all get vaccinated soon to stamp out this community threat.

Andy Brack is publisher of the Charleston City Paper.  Have a comment?  Send to: feedback@statehousereport.com.