Jinny Suh leads Immunize Texas, an organization that promotes vaccination efforts. She answered our questions about rumors and misinformation that is often spread about the COVID-19 vaccines.
Eagle’s Eye: What is your response to those who are hesitant about taking the vaccine? Especially for POC and members of the black community that are hesitant, given the history?
Jinny Suh: There are very real reasons why a POC might be skeptical of the medical establishment, given the history of how communities of color have been treated in this country. However, the wrongdoings of people don’t counteract the great deal of evidence we have today to support the COVID-19 vaccine. We want everyone to get the vaccine because we want everyone to be safe and protected. The vaccine is the best way to get to safety and protection. We especially want our communities of color to get the vaccine because we also know they suffer more from the disease. Understanding the reasoning behind the vaccine, what it is meant to do, and why it is so important is why so many POC leaders have received their vaccine and are trying to spread the word amongst their communities.
EE: How can we stop the misinformation surrounding the vaccine?
JS: We need to stop treating facts as though they are just opinions. We also need to think critically when we hear something that provokes any extreme feelings we might have, whether it’s fear, anger, or paranoia. It’s very easy to be swayed by emotions as strong as these, but feelings don’t change the science. As humans facing a global pandemic that has taken the lives of over 460,000 people in our country, it is imperative that we use logic to evaluate what we see in front of us and make decisions that are supported by solid evidence.
EE: What would you say to those who think the vaccine was rushed or to those who are fearful that it will change their DNA?
JS: We’ve actually known about other related coronaviruses for some time and have studied them, so in that sense, we didn’t have to start the process of developing a vaccine from scratch. We also had a lot of investment into finding vaccines that work so numerous companies got into the business of trying to find a COVID-19 vaccine. And finally, with the rapid spread of COVID-19 vaccine and the willingness of so many to be part of research trials, we were able to accomplish stages much more quickly than we normally would in non-pandemic times. The combination of all these factors led to the impressive speed with which we were able to develop and produce COVID-19 vaccines. However, nowhere along the way were shortcuts taken when it came to safety. I, myself, have looked to several experts in the field to get their take on the development process, and they have all come out strongly in favor of the evidence supporting the vaccines and have themselves advocated for everyone to get a vaccine.
As for someone worried about their DNA changing, it’s just impossible. That’s not how the technology works and this idea is unfortunately just another example of people who are anti-vaccine making things up out of whole cloth.
EE: Were you disappointed when Episcopal Health Foundation came out with the results for Travis County that said only 38% are likely to take the vaccine?
JS: I do my best not to pay attention to polls like that, as I think they can be more problematic than helpful. I think what you’ll see in real life is that as more and more people get the vaccine and show by way of their own lives that the vaccine is safe and desirable, then others who may have felt some vaccine hesitance will be confident in their decision to get the vaccine.
EE: What does a vaccine mean for our future? Will we be able to return to school? Will we still have to wear masks?
JS: The vaccine is a crucial step needed for us to return to our way of our pre-pandemic lives. However, we will have to see how that plays out on a day-to-day basis. There are so many factors involved and it’s hard to say with any real confidence what exactly will happen. For instance, I think we will have to return to school eventually but what that looks like and how our behaviors might change as a result remains to be seen. As for masks, I hope we can go back to not wearing them on most days, but I know that we’ve learned a lot about disease transmission and hope that mask usage will continue not just to curb the spread of COVID-19 but for other diseases that we know spread in a similar way.
EE: How long will the vaccine’s protection last?
JS: Unfortunately, science is not able to predict things without any evidence. At this point, we have not lived with the disease or the vaccine long enough to know the answer to this question.
EE: How accessible will the vaccine be for people of color and low-income families?
JS: The answer to this really depends on where you are located and how well your local health authority is able to handle issues of inequity. There’s so much involved from supply to access, infrastructure to ability, and everything in between. However, I will say that there are many of us involved in the vaccine work who are dedicated to trying to increase the ability for POC and low-income families to get the vaccine because we value those individuals and want to see them protected.
EE: Can someone who has been vaccinated still spread the virus?
JS: Again, the data is still unable to say how exactly the vaccines are able to reduce the incidence of COVID-19 and the reasons may be different depending on the vaccine you’re talking about. A vaccine could either be preventing an infection from happening at all, or it could be greatly reducing symptoms and hopefully preventing transmission to another person by not allowing the body to make great quantities of the virus to spread to others. Scientists are actively collecting data as we speak so that they will eventually be able to say which mechanism is at work with each of the vaccines that are available now.
EE: Will the vaccine remain effective as the virus evolves?
JS: So far, that seems to be the case and I think there’s a very good reason to believe that will remain true. Vaccine researchers do their best to find those common parts of the virus to use so that even if there is mutation, the human immune system will still be able to mount a response. But if someone is concerned about the virus evolving to the point where the current vaccines will be ineffective, then they should be in favor of getting vaccinated as soon as possible because viruses need a body in which to grow and time to change. If we can get everyone vaccinated quickly enough, then we could effectively stop this virus from mutating to an even more dangerous strain.
EE: Do you have any advice for those on the edge about taking the vaccine?
JS: I, myself, do not claim to be an expert on vaccine research, development or production. And I recognize that. None of us can be an expert on everything. But what we should be doing in times like this is looking to the people who are the experts in those fields. When I do that with regard to the COVID-19 vaccines, I see a strong consensus of experts who have the training and knowledge I don’t have saying that the COVID-19 vaccines should be trusted and that everyone who can get them should get them.