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Other’s Opinion: Don’t look to Facebook, social media for COVID-19 vaccine information

Star Tribune

If wearing a painless mask to guard against COVID-19 was divisive, it’s easy to see how another public health measure — one that requires a needle jab — could generate additional discord in the weeks and months ahead.

Limited quantities of the new COVID-19 vaccines mean it’s unlikely until well into 2021 that most Americans will have to make the personal decision of whether to be immunized. Still, it’s not too soon to urge those with questions about the new shots to seek out guidance from trusted health care providers.

This is too important a decision to make based on something posted on Facebook or other social media, where disinformation about COVID’s risks, origins and potential cures has run rampant. Nor should you be swayed by what family, friends or former Minnesota Vikings players without medical expertise are doing.

The new COVID vaccines are indeed a remarkable achievement, with President Donald Trump taking a deserved victory lap this week for his administration’s role in their swift development. A key U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory group meets Thursday to scrutinize the vaccine developed by Pfizer. If all goes well, the agency is expected to swiftly greenlight “emergency use authorization.” A similar decision is expected soon for another vaccine, one made by Moderna.

In anticipation, state health officials on Tuesday rolled out a sensible game plan to begin vaccinations here. The first Minnesotans could be immunized against the virus before Christmas. Health care workers and nursing home residents will be given priority for the shots as the first shipments arrive.

But the laudable speed with which COVID vaccines have been developed will also give some pause. While experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the long-serving head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have vouched for testing rigor, the general public will have questions.

That’s understandable. The COVID vaccine hasn’t been around for decades as have many routine childhood immunizations. It’s natural to wonder if corners were cut during its rapid development.

The FDA’s commendable transparency in the vaccines’ evaluation is reassuring. Thursday’s advisory meeting weighing the Pfizer vaccine will be livestreamed for the public. The agency also publicly released a 53-page analysis this week in advance of that meeting.

In it are promising findings about how well the vaccine works, with new details about the protection provided after the first shot in a two-shot series. The analysis also includes information about the large trials in which the vaccine’s safety was evaluated.

Not everyone has the time or inclination to delve that deeply into the scientific data. However, it is reasonable to expect those with questions about it to seek out credible sources of information.

Fortunately, Minnesota’s doctors are not just standing by for questions, they’re standing up to lead the way. “Frontline physicians will be among the first Minnesotans to receive the vaccine and that action should bolster the public’s confidence,” said Dr. Marilyn Peitso, a St. Cloud physician who is president of the Minnesota Medical Association.

Peitso said the organization welcomes the vaccine’s arrival and is ready to help address any patients’ concerns. “Do not be misled by rumors and fear. This is an unprecedented time and these vaccines offer a way forward to a time when we can be with our loved ones safely again, return to work and school with confidence and safety,” Peitso said. “Vaccines have conquered many terrible diseases, from polio to smallpox, and the COVID vaccines offer similar hope.”