Dr. Dan Salmon on what we’re learning from the vaccine rollout

My Vax Journey sat down with Dr. Dan Salmon of the Institute for Vaccine Safety in May 2021 to discuss the vaccine rollout and the public health response.

 

Share what you’ve observed about decision-making specifically as it relates to the COVID-19 vaccine.

 

A lot of what I've heard from people is really in the context of how they see vaccines, how they see public health, and how they see the world. For example, when you ask a lot of people, “What are you going to do about a COVID vaccine?” they'll say, “Well, with the flu vaccine, this is what I do,” and so they see it in the context of a flu vaccine. A lot of people also see it in their worldview. So some people will say, “Well, you know, I'm not that trusting of medicine or public health or the government's response to COVID.” It's understandable because there's been so much going on with COVID and so much in the news and talk about the vaccine that I think this is people anchoring on or seeing things through the lens of how they see the world.

 

We’ve recently seen the age group eligible for vaccination expand to 12+. Does the decision-making process for younger populations differ?

 

I don't think we know yet. I would think that people that were really eager to get the vaccines for themselves would be more likely to get it for their children and those people that were skeptical to get it themselves are probably even more skeptical for their children. 

 

What’s been learned through the COVID-19 vaccine distribution process that has been relevant or interesting when it comes to reducing barriers for people? 

 

There's all sorts of barriers. First we think about access, which is making the vaccine available to people in a convenient way where cost isn't a barrier. And I think we've made a lot of progress in that regard. The vaccination program was built with this premise—if we build it, they'll come. And what we saw, which isn't terribly surprising, was that it was built and a lot of people came, but certainly a lot of people didn't come. 

 

If you're talking about getting access to information, that's much more complicated and much harder to do in many ways. There's no lack of access to information about COVID vaccines, but the question is, is it accurate? Is it really the information people are looking for? Is it effective in informing people? And that's a much heavier lift. 

 

Where is the opportunity for public health as we move forward through this?

 

There's a really important moment here where public health can show communities that we’re your friend, our job is to help you, our job is to protect your health. And that's something that we do in partnership. We have a moment here where we can really do that. And it's an opportunity for people to understand and value what public health does. I hope that we take advantage of that opportunity because people are talking about trust in public health and trusting government and how it's such a problem, and the way that you solve that problem is to work with communities and people and be their partner. And if we do that well, we will do a better job  of protecting those populations, helping those populations, controlling the pandemic and having a longstanding, ongoing, positive relationship. 


 

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Daniel A. Salmon, PhD, Director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety, has training, research and practice interests in epidemiology and health policy, and is a professor in the Department of International Health, where he also coordinates the PhD program in Global Disease Epidemiology and Control.