The path out of what sometimes seems like a pandemic without end will be found at the end of a needle: Vaccines. Our collective escape will only happen if enough people follow the science and opt in.

Let’s use the next few months to convince anti-vaxxers and members of minority communities who fear the COVID-19 vaccine to rethink their opposition or misgivings and join the majority of San Antonians lining up to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

San Antonio, in particular, needs to make sure its public outreach efforts focus on communities that have been targeted with misinformation and fear-mongering. But let’s not rely entirely on government. Let’s do our part and engage reluctant family members, neighbors, and co-workers.

The unmet demand for COVID-19 vaccinations in San Antonio has frustrated many seniors and the city’s large population of individuals of all ages with preexisting conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, but it’s actually welcome news that so many people are clamoring to receive the vaccine.

While the supply-demand curve here (and everywhere) is worrisome, we should be concerned with the significant number of surveyed adult Americans who say they will not get the vaccine. Poll results vary, but even the lowest projections, such as those found in this Pew Research Center survey published in December, suggest 20% or more of adult Americans say they do not intend to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Among major U.S. cities, San Antonio has the highest percentage of its population living in poverty, according to a 2020 U.S. Census Bureau report. This same population has a high rate of uninsured families and adults and children who do not receive preventive health care.

Add in the difficulty for many working poor to take time off work or to find child care and we are left with a significant population that is more likely to get vaccinated only if City and County officials mount neighborhood-level outreach efforts and bring the vaccines to the people. We can’t expect everyone to register for vaccines at the Alamodome when such an undertaking requires a smartphone, internet access, and then hours of time on the given day of vaccination.

Mobile vaccine labs would be ideal, preceded by door-to-door campaigns with bilingual public health advocates. Seems like a very practical workforce development opportunity to me that could be funded by the City and County and pay long-term dividends.

Meanwhile, what causes an educated person to become an anti-vaxxer? I’ll get pushback here, but the short answer is the ubiquity of social media and its trafficking in false information, conspiracy theories, and highly partisan efforts that divide rather than unite people.

Public health officials and elected leaders faced little widespread opposition when defeating polio and other communicable diseases in national vaccination campaigns mounted in the 1950s and ’60s. Today, “expert advice” comes at people from all directions, and a remarkably high percentage of people appear to be willing consumers of false information and fake claims as long as the source is a trusted peer or friend sharing that stuff on social media.

Among the claims easy to find via any search engine:

The vaccines were developed too quickly, and safety protocols were ignored in the race to bring vaccines to market.

False: Standards were not relaxed. Clinical trials were staged first with animals and then humans. The research and development effort, Operation Warp Speed, was a remarkable federal-private sector partnership, with some of the testing completed in San Antonio. As of Saturday, nearly 37 million Americans had received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and fewer than 1 in 100,000 experienced serious side effects, which were then successfully treated, according to the New York Times tracker.

COVID-19 survivors who successfully recovered have sufficient antibodies and do not need the vaccine.

False: Public health officials do not know how long antibodies will continue to be present in survivors. Some might maintain such protection indefinitely, while others develop little resistance. Experts do suggest that those who have had COVID-19 wait 90 days after recovery before seeking a vaccination, according to the Mayo Clinic’s guidance.

More people are dying from side effects from the vaccine than are dying from COVID-19.

False: This is the most nefarious disinformation campaign pedaled on fringe websites and in irresponsible social media posts. Get the vaccine: It won’t kill you.

The vaccine will alter my DNA.

False: Without putting readers back into high school chemistry and biology class, the approved vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) to instruct cells in the body to make a protein that triggers an immune response. There is no interaction with an individual’s DNA.

Women who get the vaccine will not be able to get pregnant and bear children.

False: The vaccines were not developed using fetal tissue, as some websites claim, and vaccines do not affect placental tissue. There is no evidence that pregnant women who contract COVID-19 suffer higher rates of miscarriage, either. Should pregnant or breast-feeding women get the vaccine? It’s too early for any definitive tests to show the vaccines are 100% safe, but nor is there any evidence to date that vaccines are not safe for women of child-bearing age. Find more information here.

I lack the space to list every thread of disinformation out there regarding COVID-19 vaccines, and I am doing all of us a service by not identifying some of the websites I visited to read for myself the garbage masquerading as the truth out there. The only logical conclusion for any informed person to arrive at is that the vaccines are the path out of the pandemic.

Once society is free of COVID-19, we can start a serious conversation about reversing decades of disinvestment in public health protections in the United States.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.