Published June 16, 2022
Mark D. Hicar, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases, wrote a chapter titled “The Vaccine, Public Trust, and Doubt,” in the book “Playing With Reality: Denying, Manipulating, Converting, and Enhancing What is There.”
The book features an international team of contributors exploring the issue of how and why, in dealing with what is there before us, we play with reality by employing theater, fiction, words, conspiracy theories, alternate realities, scenarios, and art itself.
Hicar’s chapter explores the issue of why some are hesitant to accept vaccination.
To provide some answers, he first chronicles the influence of vaccine on society, the evolution of vaccine safety monitoring, the Vaccine Injury Compensation program and then “vaccine hesitancy,” the current public mistrust in immunization programs.
Hicar frames his discussion as a clash between “individualism,” where one’s opposition to inoculating against COVID-19 becomes a matter of personal belief, versus a “collectivist” acceptance of immunization bolstered by the facts as advanced by the scientific community.
“Mass vaccination is arguably the greatest public health achievement of the 20th century,” Hicar says. “Unfortunately, the public trust in this intervention has been slowly eroding.”
Vaccine acceptance has been undercut by vaccine success, Hicar notes.
“The scourges of the past are generally historical footnotes,” he says. “The collective mind has forgotten that roughly one-third of children born in the 1800s never made it to adulthood.”
Hicar says the current pandemic offers a number of examples of balancing side effect profiles with public health need.
“With the COVID-19 vaccines, there are definite risks, but they are minute compared to risk of natural infection,” he says.
“Millions of person-hours of work support the research, development and testing of each vaccine before they are given emergency use or full approval for public use; these are not products hawked on late night infomercials or in the back of suspicious flyers,” Hicar adds.
Intriguingly, collectivism versus individualism in society is fluid, and can be driven by shared experience, such as a pandemic, Hicar points out.
“Translating science fact to real world experience that the vaccine hesitant can relate to and personalization of the decision may translate to some individualists that resist,” he says. “A silver lining to this pandemic is that this shared experience may help swing the pendulum back toward societal collectivism and in the end improve societal acceptance of vaccines.”
Hicar’s current studies focusing on using the immune response to infections to inform on improvement in vaccination strategies has led to numerous scientific technical publications and novel vaccine constructs.
His work has been supported by the Infectious Diseases Society of America Education and Research Foundation and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Wyeth Young Investigator Award in Vaccine Development and funding from the National Institutes of Health.
“Playing With Reality: Denying, Manipulating, Converting, and Enhancing What is There,” is edited by Sidney Homan, PhD, a professor of English at the University of Florida, and is published by Taylor & Francis Group.