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What’s Behind COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy?

Why are people afraid to get a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, i.e., COVID-19? You may laugh at them and tell them they don’t believe in science. Personally, I made a decision to receive the Pfizer vaccine, as did my family. However, one of my children contracted the virus. As a doctor and one who believes in science, I do not think that a child requires a vaccine against a virus to which he has undoubtedly created an immune response. You can watch my YouTube video on that subject.

I understand why many are hesitant to get the vaccine. The science behind the vaccines is solid and has been developed over the last 15 – 20 years. However, the vaccine technology has never been tested in humans. If you believe in science, you understand just how precarious that could be when introducing it for the first time in humans. That said, as with any decision-making, I considered risks and benefits to myself, my family, and the larger community. I was willing to take a calculated risk but never denying that the unknown of these technologies in humans poses risks that we may yet to discover. I believe the benefits far outweigh that risk, and the risk of continued quarantines poses an immediate serious threat to mental and physical health.

But in general, there are 5 other reasons why many are on the fence to receive vaccines.

  1. Distrust of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Let’s not kid ourselves—vaccines are big business. True, in our world, industries can create products solely to make money; yet, they can still have the favorable side effect of actually helping people. But in the eyes of many, that type of side effect is not even on the radar of the pharmaceutical industry. The development of the chickenpox vaccine in the early nineties led to the increase in Shingles. No more chicken pox-infected children meant no more passive immunity, and the incidence of Shingles increased. Not only did the chickenpox vaccine add $500 million to Merck’s bottom line, but the need to create another vaccine added another $500 million. I resent that many do need to get the Shingles vaccine, as I resent that many need to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But you can see from where the cynicism arises.

  1. Distrust of Government

The protection of its citizens, in my estimation, should be the only purpose of any government. Unfortunately, many (among all parties) in government have tended to protect their self-interests, positions, and power. With this comes the influence of lobbyists and the lure of hard to resist favors. Can anyone explain the advent of pharmaceuticals direct to consumer advertising? That’s a whole other story, but one need not look further than the relationship between Congress and lobbyists. And this relationship sheds a cynical cloud over the public’s trust in the government’s information regarding vaccines. True, the COVID-19 vaccine is an entirely different animal. Still, years of the government and the pharmaceutical industry exchanging favors can make one suspicious. Another suspicion arises from the fear of power and control. If our representatives are willing to sell us out for personal and political gains, how far are they willing to go to do that?

  1. Vaccines for Everything

We need vaccinations to prevent the spread of highly contagious diseases that can lead to death or disability, like COVID-19. But in reality, we are driven to vaccinate not by these principles but by the principles of fear. We are made to believe that our child or we could be the 1 in 100,000 to get a disease. Or that our municipality or college may have the misfortune to harbor the uncommon outbreak leading to an assault by the plaintiff’s bar and fiscally damaging lawsuits. Therefore, many feel that the government, pharmaceutical industry, and medical establishment are throwing vaccines at us for treatable diseases or those that pose little public health risk. So when we have a serious threat, people are suspicious and reluctant. The risk of serious complications from vaccines (such as about 1 in 100,000 for Guillain Barré Syndrome after a flu shot) is almost as high as some of the ailments for which we are strongly suggesting or even, in some cases, mandating vaccinations. For example, how necessary is it to vaccinate infants against meningitis, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis A, or pneumococcal pneumonia?

  1. What’s in These Darn Things?

It is not a mystery that vaccines contain a lot of “extra” ingredients. True, some may be needed, but their presence raises concern and is at the center of why many refuse to get them. The CDC states, “common substances found in vaccines include Aluminum…Antibiotics…Egg protein…Formaldehyde…Monosodium glutamate (MSG)…Thimerosal (is a mercury-containing preservative)….” People have a sense that some of these ingredients can’t be good. More importantly, many fear that these (potentially) toxic ingredients may accumulate in their children’s bodies, causing severe illnesses like Parkinsonism or Autism. Is that fear reality-based? Just think how little that blood pressure, cholesterol, or sugar pill you take. It does not take much of an active ingredient to cause a positive or negative effect on one’s body.

  1. Personal and/or Religious Beliefs

Personal beliefs, including some religious, prompt many to reject vaccinations. Many feel these to be superstitious, ignoring science. However, in life, we all make some decisions via gut instinct. And, for so many reasons, many peoples’ guts tell them not to get vaccinated. Many feel that with proper hygiene, public health awareness, healthy lifestyles, and faithful religious practice, they can protect themselves from most ailments for which vaccines experts (or governments) recommend or mandate vaccinations. Most of those who contracted serious infections with COVID-19 were older, had multiple medical problems, and/or were obese supports that lifestyle may strongly influence immunity from the virus.


I see these as the top reasons people feel uncomfortable about getting or outright refuse to get vaccinated. Other laws and mandates will do nothing to alleviate the public’s attitudes. What will help is garner more trust. After all, some vaccines are necessary for our safety, as I believe the COVID-19 vaccine is. So, we don’t want to alienate the public and throw the baby out with the bathwater. If we are to have an intelligent approach to vaccination, then the following must happen:

  1. Eliminate direct to consumer advertising of vaccines

  2. Limit contact between the Pharmaceutical Industry and the Congress, FDA, CDC; and prohibit lobbying

  3. Non-partisan and unaffiliated scientists and epidemiologists present information to Congress and the public

  4. Clean up vaccines—develop more “organic” vaccines without potentially toxic ingredients

  5. Reevaluate the actual public health need for particular vaccines


We can blame the reluctance of many to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on the above problems, which have plagued public perception for years and created, in many cases, much-justified cynicism. To sweep it away and simply claim that vaccine reluctance is not a belief in science is too convenient and harmful for public health.

© Charles F. Glassman, MD

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