WASHINGTON — Elizabeth Graves, an ardent supporter of President Trump, is not opposed to vaccines. She said she had taken flu shots and pneumonia shots and, having just turned 50, was interested in being vaccinated against shingles.
But Ms. Graves, a legal transcriptionist in Starkville, Miss., said she would not be taking a coronavirus vaccine — and the sight of Vice President Mike Pence rolling up his sleeve to get vaccinated on live television on Friday, she added, would not change her mind.
Lawrence Palmer, 51, a field service engineer in Boiling Springs, Pa., and Brandon Lofgren, 25, who works in his family’s trucking and construction business in rural Wisconsin, said they felt the same way. All are fans of Mr. Trump, and echoed Ms. Graves, who said she was “suspicious” of government and that Mr. Pence’s vaccination “doesn’t mean a thing to me.”
It is a paradox of the pandemic: Helping speed the development of a coronavirus vaccine may be one of Mr. Trump’s proudest accomplishments, but at least in the early stages of the vaccine rollout, there is evidence that a substantial number of his supporters say they do not want to get it.
Until the past week, their objections were largely hypothetical. But with a second vaccine about to become available in the United States — the Food and Drug Administration was moving on Friday to authorize emergency use of the vaccine developed by Moderna, a week after the version developed by Pfizer and BioNTech won the same approval — more people will confront the choice of getting inoculated or not. The authorization will clear the way for the shipment of 5.9 million doses over the weekend and tens of millions more in coming months, greatly expanding the reach of the vaccination campaign as the nation grapples with the uncontrolled spread of the disease.
For the most part, public opinion has been swinging in favor of vaccination. Seventy-one percent of Americans are willing to be vaccinated, up from 63 percent in September, according to a survey released this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Still, the survey found that Republicans were the most likely to be hesitant, with 42 percent saying they would probably not or definitely not be vaccinated, as compared with 12 percent of Democrats.
Experts say that vaccine hesitancy may diminish over time if people see friends and relatives getting vaccinated without incident. Sheri Simms, 62, a retired businesswoman in Northeast Texas who describes herself as a “moderate conservative” supporter of the president, said that while she did not intend to get vaccinated now, that could change.
“As more information comes out, and things appear to work better, then I will weigh the risks of the vaccine against the risk of the coronavirus and make a judgment,” she said.
The “anti-vaxxer movement” is not new, and it typically cuts across political parties. But the coronavirus vaccine, developed against the backdrop of a bitterly fought presidential election and championed by an especially polarizing figure in Mr. Trump, has become especially associated with partisanship.
During the campaign, while Mr. Trump was promising a vaccine by Election Day, some Democrats expressed concern about whether safety would be sacrificed in the rush to deliver a vaccine in time to help the president at the polls.
Political leaders in both parties worked on Friday to dispel concerns about the vaccine.
Mr. Pence, who took the Pfizer vaccine on Friday in a ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, was not the only prominent public official to get vaccinated. On Capitol Hill, congressional leaders including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, were also inoculated against Covid-19. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill Biden, are to be vaccinated on Monday.
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Answers to Your Vaccine Questions
With distribution of a coronavirus vaccine beginning in the U.S., here are answers to some questions you may be wondering about:
- If I live in the U.S., when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.
- When can I return to normal life after being vaccinated? Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.
- If I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask? Yes, but not forever. Here’s why. The coronavirus vaccines are injected deep into the muscles and stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies. This appears to be enough protection to keep the vaccinated person from getting ill. But what’s not clear is whether it’s possible for the virus to bloom in the nose — and be sneezed or breathed out to infect others — even as antibodies elsewhere in the body have mobilized to prevent the vaccinated person from getting sick. The vaccine clinical trials were designed to determine whether vaccinated people are protected from illness — not to find out whether they could still spread the coronavirus. Based on studies of flu vaccine and even patients infected with Covid-19, researchers have reason to be hopeful that vaccinated people won’t spread the virus, but more research is needed. In the meantime, everyone — even vaccinated people — will need to think of themselves as possible silent spreaders and keep wearing a mask. Read more here.
- Will it hurt? What are the side effects? The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection into your arm won’t feel different than any other vaccine, but the rate of short-lived side effects does appear higher than a flu shot. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. The side effects, which can resemble the symptoms of Covid-19, last about a day and appear more likely after the second dose. Early reports from vaccine trials suggest some people might need to take a day off from work because they feel lousy after receiving the second dose. In the Pfizer study, about half developed fatigue. Other side effects occurred in at least 25 to 33 percent of patients, sometimes more, including headaches, chills and muscle pain. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign that your own immune system is mounting a potent response to the vaccine that will provide long-lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.
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