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Clinical General Public Health

Let Me Be Brief: Vaccine Hesitancy

A series of briefs by the Texas Medical Association’s Medical Student Section

By: Grayson Jackson, Kate Holder, and Whitney Stuard

Vaccine hesitancy refers to when an individual refuses or delays receiving an available vaccine, primarily due to misinformation, lack of health literacy, or fear.1 This issue—especially in the setting of the COVID-19 crisis and growing misinformation about science and medicine nationwide—is of great importance for medical students as future physicians and scientific communicators. Widespread vaccine refusal may result in untold public health consequences, including outbreaks of vaccine-preventable infectious diseases and rising healthcare costs. Vaccine hesitancy is often observed by quantifying nonmedical vaccine exemptions from state-mandated immunizations. In Texas, these exemptions have tripled since the 2010–11 school year.2 Data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control show that during the 2018–19 school year (the most recent available), Texas reported 2.2% of kindergarteners with a nonmedical exemption, amounting to 390,000 exempted children second only to California.3

The ongoing health crisis caused by COVID-19 has placed tremendous hope on vaccine compliance as the most practical way to stifle the global pandemic. Scientific facts have become increasingly politicized, and vaccines represent one of the key topics in which such facts have become distorted and polarized. Some questions (i.e., whether vaccines cause autism) have persistently circulated among vaccine-hesitant groups for years, whereas the COVID-19 crisis has heightened the risk of disinformation as vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna, and others are rolled out nationwide. It is incumbent upon us as future physicians to engage in the responsible dissemination of correct information about vaccines’ safety and efficacy. However, one should also avoid rushing to condemnation or judgment of vaccine-hesitant patients and parents which may only intensify their opposition.4

The Texas Medical Association (TMA) has worked to actively combat vaccine hesitancy and problems with vaccine availability throughout the state. The TMA has been working to support vaccinations including influenza, HPV, MMR and others throughout its history. TMA’s current vaccine advocacy agenda is still working to advocate for flu shots during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The TMA Medical Student Section (MSS) has also continually supported vaccine availability to all Texas residents and promoted Be Wise Immunize chapters throughout the medical school within the state. In addition to TMA’s Be Wise Immunize program, TMA has published a variety of policies supporting vaccinations to increase overall vaccination rates. Policy such as 135.012 Immunization Rates in Texas, 260.072 Conscientious Objection to Immunizations, and 135.022 Adolescent Parent Immunizations all work to increase vaccination rates within the state, promote the Texas Vaccines for Children Program and the Adult Safety Net Program, as well as combat vaccine hesitancy. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic TMA has encouraged the #ThisIsOurShot campaign to combat vaccine hesitancy.

The TMA Medical Student Section supports widespread vaccine availability in a prompt and timely manner to all Texas residents. The MSS supports incorporation of the COVID-19 vaccine into the mandatory vaccine category once it is federally authorized beyond emergency use. This may become increasingly important as we see young people and college students, who deny the vaccine due to not fearing the less negative COVID-19 health outcomes, become the population disproportionately responsible for COVID-19 spread.

As a medical student, you have probably heard countless friends and family members discuss their hesitancy to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Many people have vehemently opposed the COVID-19 vaccination simply because they have fallen victim to false information. As medical students and advocates, we should commit to broadcasting truth and combating misinformation in our local communities. We have the wherewithal and the voice to endorse the COVID-19 vaccine.

1 MacDonald NE; SAGE Working Group on Vaccine Hesitancy. Vaccine hesitancy: Definition, scope and determinants. Vaccine. 2015;33(34):4161-4164. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2015.04.036

2 https://www.texmed.org/Template.aspx?id=55299#_ftnref1

3 https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/imz-managers/coverage/schoolvaxview/data-reports/exemptions-reports/2018-19.html

4 Please visit https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/3-ways-physicians-can-improve-vaccine-conversation.


Fast Facts

  • The COVID-19 vaccine cannot give you the coronavirus or make you test positive for the coronavirus.
  • Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, you should receive the vaccine to prevent reinfection.
  • The COVID-19 vaccine will not alter your DNA or impair your ability to have children.
  • The COVID-19 vaccine is demonstrably safe and effective and tested through rigorous clinical trials.

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