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America, Don’t Throw Away Your Shot

January 8, 2021

By Sue Peschin, Beth Battaglino, RN-C, and Karyne Jones

In less than one year since COVID-19 attacked every facet of life, the first two of multiple anticipated COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized for use in the United States. Thanks to public and private researchers and scientists working in unprecedented collaboration, there is hope that we could soon turn the corner in this pandemic. But with this hope comes a new challenge – providing information about these vaccines to our fellow Americans so they feel confident in rolling up their sleeves in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Scientists in the U.S. and around the world agree that vaccines are the best defense we have against COVID-19, and that they’re the quickest path to stopping the spread of this disease. This is our best hope for reopening and unleashing our economy, and returning to our loved ones, communities, jobs, and schools.

Vaccines work best when people trust in them enough to be vaccinated. In the decades before this current public health challenge, vaccines have helped us reduce infant and child mortality rates, eliminate smallpox globally, and prevent paralysis and other serious complications from diseases like polio. Vaccines have extended life expectancy for millions and are considered to be one of the top public health achievements of the 20th Century.

Widespread use of COVID-19 vaccines is needed if we are going to stop the continued spread of the virus. But we know vaccine confidence is low overall, and particularly in communities of color. To build that trust, a collaboration amongst organizations representing the multitude of constituencies that face challenges from COVID-19 is essential.

That’s why we launched the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project. To date, we’ve brought together more than 100 leading organizations representing patients, caregivers and families, diverse communities, health care professionals, older Americans, veterans, frontline workers, and scientists. Together, the individuals we represent find themselves on the front lines of this public health crisis or are among the most vulnerable to facing severe illness from the virus.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project is committed to: adhering to a gold-standard regulatory review process; communicating the importance of COVID-19 vaccination for public health, the economy, and broader society; detailing the impact of widespread COVID-19 vaccination uptake in protecting individuals, families, and communities; and driving a conversation that helps ensure equitable access to vaccines through equitable access to information and dialogue.

It’s a monumental effort that is pivotal to getting our lives and our economy back on track.

We’re facing an unprecedented public health crisis that has impacted our entire nation, but has not affected us equally. Our coalition brings together key stakeholders that represent the constituencies most directly impacted and the hardest hit. In coming together, we’re working to ensure equitable access to information and vaccines, as well as building confidence in the science and process that will put normalcy within reach.

To go from a vial in the lab to a shot in the arm requires a series of important steps – including clinical trials, formal reviews done by independent boards and experts, and massive infrastructure planning for distribution. We are fortunate to live in a country that has a robust regulatory review process for potentially life-changing medications, one where vaccines must adhere to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s gold-standard review. It’s critical that our family, friends and neighbors know that these vaccines have gone through that same process, deeming them safe and effective.

That’s just what we aim to do, and we hope you’ll join us.

There is much reason to be hopeful in the new year and COVID-19 vaccines are a big part of that. As Lin-Manuel Miranda so aptly put it in Hamilton, “It’s time to take a shot.”

Sue Peschin, Beth Battaglino, RN-C and Karyne Jones are the conveners of the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project. Peschin is the President and CEO of Alliance for Aging Research, Battaglino is the CEO of HealthyWomen, and Jones is President and CEO of National Caucus and Center on Black Aging, Inc. Initial support for the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project has been provided by Pfizer, Inc.

This op-ed was first published by RealClear Policy.

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