What Is Behind the Fear of the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Author: Katarina Rausova

Published at: 01/28/2021

Vaccination is among the biggest achievements of medicine. But even though vaccines have saved millions of lives, people are still suspicious of them. Now that vaccination against COVID-19 is in progress in most countries, let’s look at the reasons why some people are opposed to vaccines.

Five reasons why people are hesitant to be vaccinated

  1. People don’t see the disease as a threat, so don’t understand why they should be injected with some drug. In the case of COVID-19, many people opposing the vaccination don’t acknowledge the severe effects it can have. With other diseases, they simply have never met anyone suffering or dying from a dangerous disease such as smallpox. Documented fatality rates for smallpox in Europe in the 18th century were around 30% among adults and 80-98% among infants. One-third of survivors went blind. In 1967 a mass vaccination campaign began, and in 1980 the World Health Assembly declared the world free of smallpox. Now imagine a parent who has never heard of the disease, never experienced anyone suffering from it, and therefore doesn’t understand why his/her child should be vaccinated against such an unimaginable threat. For them, the risk of a child feeling unwell, experiencing harmful side effects or adverse reactions is much higher and more relevant than the child's risk of dying from smallpox (or any other disease child is being vaccinated against).
  2. People who didn’t study medicine are often lost in medical data and information. In many cases, the doctors might not take time to explain in simple language what each vaccine prevents and which are the ones he/she recommends. When a person doesn’t fully understand medical jargon and the effects of various vaccines, he might find anti-vax explanations to be formulated in much clearer language that they can understand and relate to.
  3. Many anti-vax parents are afraid that a vaccine might cause autism in children. Or that diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine can cause sudden infant death syndrome (SID). These beliefs are largely based on the fact that vaccination among small children is done during the same age range when SID appears, and first signs of autism can be noticed. There have been done various studies that didn’t verify this. There is no causal connection between vaccines and autism or vaccines or SID.
  4. Some anti-vaxxers fear the vaccine components. These people have concerns about dangerous substances like formaldehyde, mercury, or aluminum. However, only trace amounts of these chemicals are used in vaccines, which are not toxic to the human body. In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, some people are concerned about whether mRNA will modify their DNA. This is not possible since mRNA doesn’t incorporate into DNA – it does not even go to the cell nucleus, where our DNA is located. mRNA used in the vaccine simply gives instructions to make the “spike protein” found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which then stimulates the production of antibodies against it, and then the mRNA is quickly degraded.
  5. A certain percentage of the population is terrified of needles. Trypanophobia is an extreme fear of injections or having blood taken. It is thought that between 3.5% and 10% of the population have this fear. It is not uncommon for people with this phobia to experience extremely negative sensations during the injection or faint after the process. It is only natural for them to avoid any needles, be it a blood sample or vaccination.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe?

Some people find it hard to believe that effective vaccines have been developed in less than a year and feel that there is something “fishy” about it. It is true that normally it takes up to 10 years to develop a vaccine. We all know that 2020 was not a typical year. The effort put forth by pharmaceutical companies and researchers all over the globe was unprecedented. Never before have so many people worked towards the same goal. And it worked. Various companies have come up with vaccines.

This was made possible also by increasing the number of tests in order to provide efficient data. Usually, 200 people would participate in the trials over the course of three years. Now about 40000 people have taken part in the clinical trials.

In the race for COVID-19 treatment also bureaucratic obstacles have been eased. The standard process for the drug to be authorized is that the data are handed over to the medical agency and studied after the tests. It usually takes a year. As the circumstances were extraordinary for the COVID-19 vaccine, the European Medical Agency (EMA) reviewed the documentation as it was produced and so the authorization could be granted almost at the same time the tests were completed. To speed up the process, labeling was set aside, so the vaccine doesn’t have information translated into all EU languages.

Last but not least, we have to understand that medical agencies, like FDA in the USA and EMA in Europe, are very cautious about granting approval. COVID-19 vaccines they approved had to fulfill rigorous criteria in order to pass. If the vaccines didn’t meet the requirements, nobody would approve them.

To sum up, some people are afraid of vaccines because they believe vaccines bring more harm than good. Faced with the reality of COVID-19, they will have to do the math for themselves whether the risk of getting COVID-19 and experiencing serious medical problems is higher than the risk of being vaccinated. And what more, they will have to decide whether they want to be selfish and care only about themselves or they also care about people who can’t be vaccinated (pregnant women, children, people with serious health conditions). Herd immunity means that when most of a population is immune to the disease, it indirectly protects the vulnerable ones.