A CORK GP has warned that misinformation could hamper the uptake of a Covid-19 vaccine, making doctors’ struggle against the virus even more difficult.
Former lord mayor and Blackpool-based GP John Sheehan said he hopes that an informative public health campaign will be enough to eliminate fear around the virus.
Nonetheless, he said, GPs will have to accept any patient’s decision to refuse the vaccine when it becomes available.
The frontline worker pointed out that while a number of his own patients’ hesitation around the vaccine stems from fear, misinformation remains unhelpful.
“There are going to be some who refuse and that’s their right,” Dr Sheehan said. “In that respect, it will be the same as any other vaccine. Vaccinations are not compulsory and it’s up to us to make that argument, but at the end of the day people will make an informed choice.”
Ireland is in line to receive more than 2m doses of a vaccine, if approved, under the terms of a collective supply deal being negotiated by the EU with Pfizer.
Meanwhile, US company Moderna has said its experimental vaccine is 94.5% effective in preventing Covid-19, based on interim data from a late-stage clinical trial. Its final-stage clinical trial is ongoing and includes more than 30,000 people in the US.
Dr Sheehan hopes people who are fearful about availing of the vaccine will feel differently in the months ahead.
“This is only coming out on people’s radar,” he said. “A lot of people are adopting a wait-and-see approach. At the end of the day, you have to make decisions for your family.
“The concern is that some people can make an informed choice while others are more susceptible to conspiracy theories. These can become deeply ingrained. They are affecting people who are vulnerable in terms of their health but also in terms of their literacy and understanding.”
He said the dangers of infectious diseases are frequently played down.
“Many people view infectious disease from 50 years ago, such as small pox and diptheria, as if they never really existed,” he said.
“For some reason, they view them as mythical. However, anyone who remembers contracting diseases like these realises how far we have come. The polio pandemic showed how tragic it was for those who had to live with the devastating consequences and still do today.”
Dr Sheehan also warned of the dangers of rejecting masks and vaccination as a political statement.
“In the US we saw how wearing a mask became a political statement,” he said. “Medicine should never be sucked into a political world. We should be making these decisions based on the best available evidence and our health. Most are not motivated by politics. They are motivated by the possibility of protecting vulnerable family members. When things get political harmful decisions are made in relation to healthcare.
“At the end of the day, you have to make decisions for your family based on available evidence that’s peer-reviewed and looked at critically. It’s very easy to spread misinformation and conspiracies but that’s no reason not to avail of something that’s proven to make a difference.”