Home Health Glenn Ellis Ellis: Up your Health Literacy Game

Ellis: Up your Health Literacy Game

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By Glenn Ellis

Do you understand what’s going on with all the research for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments?

If you’re like most people in this country, based on a 2019 Harris Poll, more than two in five, or 45 percent of all Americans are concerned about the safety of vaccines in general. So, as we are facing the coming of new vaccines and treatments for this latest viral threat, called coronavirus, I’m thinking we need to up our health literacy game.

Now, let me be clear, I understand how it has been made, to make sure that you have to be a rocket scientist to understand things in medicine and research that so directly impact our lives and our health. You don’t have the slightest idea of the kinds of real answers and questions we should be asking as we are all preparing to make decisions for ourselves and our families in the coming months and years.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said a couple of things, recently, that really caught my attention. First, I heard him say, “we’re going to start manufacturing a vaccine way before we’re finishing testing to see if it works.” Before I could process what just I heard, during another interview, he said, “I’m glad we have a bunch of candidates.”

Here’s why I was particularly struck by those statements, and why I felt the need to write this column.

Let me explain: Let’s start with herd immunity; the fundamental public health benefit for vaccines, in addition to offering the individual a degree of protection from infection. Like when you (like everyone you know) had chickenpox as a child, the “herd” has antibodies for immunity from a future attack, since everybody got it as a child. Do you know anyone who had the chickenpox twice? Shingles is another story, for another time.

The point to understand is that 45 percent of all Americans have some degree of fear or mistrust of vaccines. One study done at the University of Nebraska, last year, wanted to look at this in the context of African Americans when it comes down to taking a flu vaccine. That study found that African Americans (who are now, by the way, being infected and killed by COVID-19 at a much higher rate than whites) are 40 percent less likely to get a flu shot than whites.

How is that going to shape our personal decisions for us and our families in this COVID-19 era? Are some of us going to be reluctant to get the coronavirus vaccine when, and if, one becomes available? Are we making the best lifestyle and behavior modifications in the event there is no vaccine? Don’t forget, over 35 years later, and there still is no vaccine for HIV/AIDS, while it is still at epidemic levels in black America.

So, back to Dr. Fauci. He’s saying they are going to manufacturer millions of doses of the vaccine before they know if it works, and he’s also glad they have lots of candidates.

Folks, if there are a lot of candidates, that means there’s a lot of money being spent and made … just on the research. Does that also mean that if they go ahead and start manufacturing the doses of the current vaccine that is moving ahead in clinical trials, they are going to just lose millions, if not billions of dollars, if it doesn’t work. That’s a lot of money on just on that one vaccine trial. How much money are they really prepared to throw at this thing? There are already at least 254 therapies and 95 vaccines related to COVID-19 being researched. Dr. Fauci is excited about this one…so far.

More importantly, they planned on a year to 18 months, from the start of the pandemic a few months ago. I can tell you from my experience, on Institutional Review Boards, reviewing and approving clinical research, that clinical research for this type of infectious disease vaccine takes three to five years before the U.S, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. I can’t lie to you. The speed and financial interests involved in the race for treatment and a coronavirus vaccine concern me deeply.

I heard an interview with a black virologist from North Carolina say that everything would have to go perfect through every little step of the way, Dr. Fauci’s goal of a vaccine by early next year.

Here’s the bottom line: This is not intended to add to historical fear and mistrust those things and people, in this country, who have so clearly earned it. The purpose of this column is the provide you with information that will empower and encourage you to ask deeper questions of your doctors and health professionals; do your own research; talk to family and friends but ask for documentation or proof. We are talking about life and death.

We see the deadly blows of COVID-19. This is no time to rely on opinions, myths, conspiracy theories, or whatever. Question when you don’t know. Listen, carefully, to what’s being told to you. Ask, “is something not being done properly in order to develop a vaccine at warp speed”?

I plead with you, no matter the decision on getting this or any other vaccine, please make sure it an informed decision. Informed with good, credible information. Think about your family; and if you find room in your heart, think about the rest of us, who you live and work around everyday throughout life.

Glenn Ellis, is a Harvard Medical School Research Bioethics Fellow and author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics.

For more good health information visit: www.glennellis.com.