Access and hesitancy as major challenges surrounding covid-19 vaccination campaigns

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Eleni Xenophontos, a 4th year medical student at the University of Cyprus. She is currently the National Public Health Officer at the Cyprus Medical Students’ Association-CyMSA. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

It is widely accepted that the demand for vaccines is skyrocketing as the COVID-19 pandemic  continues to place a great burden globally, with more deaths being reported every day and new more infectious and lethal strains of SARS-CoV2 being discovered. In the worldwide race for combating COVID-19 disease 10 different vaccines are currently being used around the world, 64 vaccines are in clinical development and 173 vaccines are in preclinical development. Yet, while there is no significant reserve of vaccines,  this effort in eventually ensuring a sufficient amount of  authorized vaccine doses for covering the populations needs can not be achieved for the next few months. But is that the only challenge surrounding COVID-19 vaccination campaigns?

Nevertheless,  it seems that as local health authorities become more adept at vaccine distribution, they will eventually be able to catch up to the limited supply. This limited supply requires reasonable and equitable prioritizing, giving access to the vulnerable populations-healthcare and social care professionals, elderly and people with underlying health conditions-through transparent decision making and without any personal, financial or political conflict of interest. A phenomenon hindering this rational plan of distribution is “Vaccine Nationalism”. This signing of agreements between governments and pharmaceutical companies for supplying their own populations prior being available for other countries leads to the creation of further supply problems leaving lower-income countries without access to vaccines that can be proved lifesaving. In addition, the global competition for manufacturing the required number of doses may cause the exponential spiking of prices which would not be the case if it was for a collaborative effort such as the COVAX Facility for example. Moreover, “Vaccine Nationalism” has a major impact in prolonging the pandemic while some countries take advantage of the supply racing towards the “ideal image” of a COVID19-free country while other countries will not have the means for making crucial steps towards improvement.

Another factor that undermines the collective effort of carrying out vaccination campaigns successfully is vaccine hesitancy. Vaccine hesitancy is the delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination service as defined by ECDC. The socialization carriers that may amplify this phenomenon are: family, school, government and media through social norms, collective values, policies and immunization requirements altering people’s perception on the vaccine efficacy and safety. Some other determinants can be race/ethnicity, education level, income, past experiences, knowledge about vaccines or even the mental health state of a person which can make them vulnerable to misinformation and extreme ideologies such as those embraced by the anti-vaccine movement. Consequently, this could potentially affect the public’s intention in getting vaccinated.

In conclusion we should always keep in mind that vaccines are the optimal public health strategy for preventing or -in this case- controlling a Health Emergency. As medical students, it’s our duty to advocate about COVID-19 vaccination campaigns; however, realistically speaking, we are not in a position to ensure access but we can eliminate vaccine hesitancy.

About the author

Eleni Xenophontos is a 4th year medical student at the University of Cyprus. She is currently the National Public Health Officer at the Cyprus Medical Students’ Association-CyMSA. She was trained on Leadership on Health Emergencies and has worked for the forming of the Policy Paper on Health Emergencies adopted by IFMSA. She served as the Vice President for External Affairs(2018-2019) and the President (2019-2020) of CYMSA and participated in AM18, AM19, MM20 (Head of Delegation), Virtual EuRegMe, OGA.

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