BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — UAB Medicine hosted a discussion looking into past vaccine-preventable diseases and how public health played a role in them.
Dr. Paul Erwin, the dean of UAB’s School of Public Health, led the briefing, focusing on how past vaccine campaigns were successful in hopes to improve vaccination rates for COVID-19.
Dr. Erwin began by going over the history of vaccinations, starting back in 1796 with smallpox. While vaccinations have helped reduce vaccine-preventable deaths, there have been some complications. Specifically in 1955 when an issue with the polio vaccine led to 300 children contracting the disease.
Despite this, vaccinations have been required most of our lives in order to go to school or even work, Dr. Erwin said.
While taking a vaccine is not new, the hesitancy behind the COVID-19 vaccine seems to stem from a lack of information. Dr. Erwin says he released a survey looking to find the answers as to why people were not getting the shots. The study revealed the top three reasons being people’s concerns about the side effects, the lack of information on how well the vaccine works and the fact that people don’t seem to trust that it is safe.
Dr. Erwin says it is up to healthcare providers to answer these questions for their patients in order to help raise the vaccination rate.
“Among all groups, whether you broke it down by race, gender, educational status. The person with whom they trusted for their health information was their healthcare provider,” Dr. Erwin said.
During his 30 years of working in public health, Dr. Erwin said he has not seen such a contrast in views of vaccines before this current COVID-19 vaccine.
“The difference for me as a public health professional is the extent to which we are so polarized as a society about vaccines. Whether or not one supports or believes in vaccines has suddenly become a matter of politics and not science and health. And that’s something I had not previously experienced with other vaccine campaigns. At least not to this degree,” he said.
On the recent surge in cases and hospitalizations, Dr. Erwin says the best-case scenario is that Alabamians start to get vaccinated and the state can reach “community immunity.” He said he does fear a worst-case scenario could be that new and more dangerous variants of COVID-19 could form and transmit to others.
You can watch the full discussion in the video player above.