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Pittsburgh Medical Experts Concerned About Coronavirus Vaccine Hesitancy

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- When a safe and effective vaccine against coronavirus becomes available, will people take it?

"This is more safety than we have seen with past vaccines," says Dr. Richard Zimmerman of the Pitt Center for Vaccine Research.

A University of Pittsburgh panel has looked at this issue.

"Vaccines don't save lives, vaccinations save lives," says Jaime Sidani, Ph.D., from the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health. "It's not going to do us a whole lot of good if people don't get it."

The panelists say the challenge is not the vocal anti-vaxxers, who represent just three percent of those who won't get immunized. But there is a larger group — the vaccine-hesitant.

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Polling indicates fewer people would be willing to get immunized against COVID-19. A Harris poll in mid-August showed 69 percent would get the vaccine. This dropped to 58 percent in October.

Contributing to hesitancy — misinformation.

"Social media may be a large contributor," says Beth Hoffman, MPH, from the Pitt Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health.

"We are losing this battle already," says Baruch Fischhoff, Ph.D., from the CMU Department of Engineering and Public Policy and Institute for Politics and Strategy.

The reluctance comes in four main areas: a lack of trust in medicine and drug companies, those who favor alternative medicine, concerns about side effects, and conspiracy theorists.

"They have conflicting messages that have, in effect, deliberately undermined the public's trust for some short-term gains," says Dr. Fischhoff.

Hoffmann believes targeting messages from relatable messengers will overcome the hesitation.

"We can really capitalize on one, Pittsburgh's love of sports. So getting some of our local sports stars out when a vaccine is available and promoting that. But also right now, promoting things like mask-wearing, as well as the idea that we are here in Mister Rodgers' neighborhood. So thinking of our neighbors and doing things to protect them," says Hoffman.

Then the next step is getting the vaccine out in a fair, efficient, and flexible way.

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