Dr. Pablo Hernandez: Trust science, not unfounded beliefs, assumptions or worse

Trust science, not unfounded beliefs, assumptions or worse

Dr. Pablo Hernandez
Imagine this: A deadly virus is killing children, robbing too many of them and their parents of a bright future. As outbreaks emerge, parents keep their children in isolation and live in fear that they are unprotected from the silent virus.
Hero researchers work day and night to discover a vaccine to stop the spread. Their hard work pays off, but, when the vaccine was unveiled, the response from Americans was unexpected.
Is this 2021 America during COVID?
Dr. Pablo Hernandez

No. This was 1955 America during polio.

Americans 66 years ago did what would be, to some, unthinkable today – they volunteered their children by the hundreds of thousands to be test subjects for the experimental vaccine.

Even after tragedy struck and batches of vaccine meant to stop the spread actually gave children polio (infecting 40,000 and killing 10 children), Americans stuck with it. They stood in line, they showed patience, they showed faith in science.

Today’s vaccine for COVID-19 is, by comparison, far safer than the polio vaccine. And yet, day after day in Central Massachusetts, I see and hear about patients who refuse the vaccine – for themselves and for their children – based on erroneous assumptions.

Here are the facts: The COVID-19 vaccine is very safe, period. This isn’t an experimental vaccine. This has been tested. Retested. Re-re-tested. It is safe.

And yet too many individuals are up in arms based on premises that fall into false beliefs and assumptions or worse, not science. 

When I am faced with a patient who does not believe in the COVID-19 vaccine and does not want to get it, for themselves or their child, I approach the situation in one of two ways:

• For a patient I don’t know very well or I am meeting for the first time, I engage in a conversation to understand their fear, usually to uncover that they don’t seem to really know what they are truly afraid of. 

As we know, fear is often based on unfounded facts, not on science.  Fear of the COVID-19 vaccine is based on misplaced concerns about RNA inhibitors, infertility, tracking microchips, magnetism or any of the other baseless theories populating too many internet stories.

So when I meet with a patient or any individual who is afraid of getting the COVID-19 vaccine, I try to explain the facts to quiet their fears. I understand I might not get them to say yes immediately because I know they have to leave the area of their belief and go toward science; but at least the conversation has started.

We all need to exercise patience with those who are resistant, however,  we must persist and help them to reach beyond their fears to learn the facts about the COVID-19 vaccine. Only through steady vaccinations will this virus go the way of polio. We can only do that together.

Dr. Pablo Hernandez is the chief medical officer at Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center with locations in Worcester, Framingham and Milford.