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Depoliticizing the Vaccine Is Crucial for Protecting Our Community

Vaccination is the key to ending the pandemic, making it imperative that we combat politicization and misinformation with science.

A few months ago, scientists across the globe brought us a miracle. In record time, they managed to produce a series of vaccines, each highly protective against severe COVID-19 and death. These vaccines are the golden key to revitalizing our economy and returning to normal life. However, the government now faces a new issue: due to widespread misinformation and politicization of the vaccine, a sector of the population refuses to receive it.

Trust in the vaccine shouldn’t be a matter of political affiliation, it should be based on an unbiased evaluation of scientific data. Refusing to get vaccinated may seem like a personal decision, but in fact has ramifications for the entire community. The longer COVID-19 circulates through those who haven’t been vaccinated, the more likely it is that variants will emerge that could decrease vaccine efficacy or increase the severity of the disease. It also puts others at risk who aren’t able to get a vaccine, either due to health or accessibility issues. 

As students, we each have a role to play in informing ourselves and others about the vaccine. Rather than relying solely on social media, we must also turn to trusted sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and leverage information from them to help members of the community who have a harder time accessing reliable material. 

Both Democrats and Republicans have held anti-vaccine sentiments in the past, but COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy has been particularly rampant among conservatives. According to a March 2021 Columbia Broadcasting System News Poll, 33 percent of Republicans indicated that they would not get the COVID-19 vaccine when available, compared to just 10 percent of Democrats and 23 percent of Independents. Former President Donald Trump received the vaccine and played a part in its development, so why have so many of his supporters been skeptical about its efficacy and safety?

Though the media has portrayed most Republicans as anti-vaxxers, not all of their suspicions are due to a distrust in science. While many people recognize that the record-setting speed of COVID-19 vaccine production is a product of a huge influx of funding coupled with a whirlwind of scientific collaboration, to some it gives the impression of cut corners and compromised safety. This doubt may be supported by the large amount of online misinformation about the vaccine, claiming that it causes reproductive diseases or permanently modifies your DNA, neither of which have any basis in fact. 

Many Republicans have also been concerned about the Biden administration’s role in its production, and their distrust in the government has impacted their decision to get vaccinated.

In a virtual vaccine-hesitancy focus group, several Republican representatives from different states voiced their opinion on the vaccine situation. “I know their vaccines are good products, I trust them,” said one participant. “What I don’t trust is the government telling me what I need to do when they haven’t led us down the right road.”

Politics have been intertwined with COVID-19 safety since the beginning of the pandemic. Republican governors have been much less keen on mask restrictions, and not wearing a mask is thought of as something like a show of independence and nationalism rather than how it should be understood — a safety hazard. As Dr. Anthony Fauci has emphasized, “It’s a public health issue. [The virus] doesn’t know politics.” 

Even in Berkeley, we’re not immune to the impact of political division. Though the majority of Berkeley may be liberal, vaccine politicization also affects communities of color. Hesitancy has been present in these communities due to a potential distrust in the government’s use of science. In the past, the government has taken advantage of African Americans when performing scientific research — the Tuskegee experiments being a notorious example. In situations like these, trust in the government is hard to achieve. However, rather than avoiding vaccination altogether, it’s necessary to instead examine the scientific data supporting the vaccine. Where trust in government sources is thin, one could alternatively rely on personal healthcare providers to give accurate information. 

In an effort to increase public confidence in the vaccine, many political figures and celebrities have shown themselves getting vaccinated. Although this helps promote the vaccine on some level, the spread of misinformation in the media should be addressed as well. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 41 percent of respondents said that they were “more likely to get the vaccine” after hearing that the vaccines are nearly 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Methods such as viewing endorsements of the vaccines resonated much less with respondents than the actual science itself. 

Vaccine hesitancy can’t be confronted with a one-size-fits-all method for every political party. Promoting the vaccine from a political angle that relies on trust in the government is not successful, especially among conservatives. The government must address public doubts surrounding the science, as well as illuminate the data proving the value of the vaccine. 

It’s crucial that the government depoliticizes the vaccine to effectively reach a diverse population. However, the responsibility also falls on us, as students, to educate ourselves and combat any form of vaccine misinformation. COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives, and mass vaccination is the best way to protect our community.