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Vaccine skepticism could hamper Pritzker's reopening plans

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Monday, November 16, 2020  |  Article  |  By Cole Lauterbach | The Center Square

Governor (44) , Health (49)

(The Center Square) – Illinois’ COVID-19 positivity rate is increasing and Gov. J.B. Pritzker has repeatedly issued new restrictions on businesses across the state. With a new vaccine for the virus showing promise, skepticism among the state’s residents could put Illinois’ path to escaping the shutdown orders in jeopardy.

Pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer announced last week a vaccine for COVID-19 in the third phase of U.S. Food and Drug Administration testing showed a 90% rate of symptom mitigation. 

Should the vaccine, administered by two injections three weeks apart, receive the government’s approval and begin distribution, multiple surveys have shown a broad skepticism toward it. 

An August study from a Yale professor found that, of the 672 participants surveyed, 67% said they would accept a  vaccine if it is recommended for them. A Wall St. Journal/NBC poll found “ 20% of respondents said they would take a vaccine as soon as one becomes available, while about half the respondents wanted to wait until they learned more information about the shot.”

One common thread among polls on the topic was a greater hesitance among low-income and minority respondents.

“The public trust, in reference to physicians specifically on the topic of COVID is significantly low,” said Dr. Christopher Colbert, assistant program director of the emergency medicine residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Most of the patients admitted into the emergency room are looking at physicians, unfortunately, with a slanted eye and I think there’s merit to that.” 

Colbert said politicization of the fight against COVID-19 has created room for skepticism against technology. 

“There are opposing views by professionals on the topic of COVID, leaving significant room for the public to question,” he said.

That begs the question; what happens when Illinois is ready to reach Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s final stage of his “Restoring Illinois” mitigation plan? Threquirement to again allow large events like concerts, conventions and widely-attended sporting events is “a vaccine or highly effective treatment widely available” but Colbert said the effect of treatment could be muted by widespread refusal to take the vaccine.

Pritzker, who has said he would not require Illinoisans to take a vaccine, hasn’t made it clear about what sort of participation rate he would need to see before allowing life in the state to return to normal. His office didn’t respond to follow-up questions on the matter Friday.