SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — As promising news comes out of a COVID-19 vaccine study at the University of Oxford in England, local researchers say it will be just as important to make sure people trust a new vaccination as progress is made in developing the immunization.
On Monday, researchers at the University of Oxford announced an experimental vaccine has proven effective in hundreds of people.
“What this vaccine does particularly well is trigger both arms of the immune system, in addition to neutralizing antibodies which other vaccines do, we also see a very strong T-cell response,” explained Oxford University Professor Adrian Hill.
In the United States, Dr. Emily Brunson, a medical anthropologist and associate professor at Texas State University is helping lead research efforts on how to encourage public trust when it comes to a new vaccine.
“We all want to go back to normal, back to school, back to church,” Brunson said. “So this is, the vaccine development is really our best way most likely for that to happen.”
However, Brunson says simply developing a useful vaccine won’t be enough.
“You have to finish that step and make sure that at least enough people get it,” she says.
Doing that will take public trust that Brunson worries is already lacking when it comes to wearing masks or following guidance about distancing.
In May — an Associated Press poll found only about half of Americans would be willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“It comes down to transparency and trust,” Brunson says.
She’s leading efforts in partnership with Johns Hopkins University and other researchers nationwide to create a national campaign where vaccine information would come directly from state and local health agencies, rather than politicians.
“It really absolutely needs to become apolitical,” she explained. “So, it’s not just having members of one political party saying, ‘You should do this,’ and the other one saying, ‘Well, maybe, maybe not.’ It really needs to be taken out of politicians’ hands. This needs to be a public health thing— all of the messaging needs to come from public health figures.”
In Texas, specifically, Brunson says it will be important for health leaders to create community panels that can address growing vaccine hesitancy and mistrust in minority communities where testing resources have been disproportionate.
“In general, looking at the lack of trust that Black communities have right now in the federal government, you know it exacerbated some of those issues, and then there are issues of access and people feeling that things aren’t transparent,” she said. “Right now in Houston, just looking at testing, they had enough testing sites in the city, but when you looked at where they were at, it was all in the wealthier areas of the city, and the poorer areas had inadequate testing sites, and so things like that we already know are issues with testing. It will need to be addressed for vaccination.”
Brunson says for a vaccine to work effectively in the months to come, that work must begin now.