When vaccines are tainted by stigma the world needs a jab of realism
To head off hesitancy and overblown expectations the public needs to know the risks of a potential vaccine
In 1976, when a mysterious new flu began spreading in the northeastern US, a few months before the presidential election, Gerald Ford, the then president, raced ahead with a high-profile campaign to vaccinate the nation. The flu strain turned out to be rather mild and, worse still, the vaccine caused several hundred people to develop paralysing Guillain-Barré syndrome (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/guillain-barre-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20362793#:~:text=Guillain%2DBarre%20(gee%2DYAH,eventually%20paralyzing%20your%20whole%20body.).
That debacle is central to the story of why the American public has such an uneasy relationship with vaccines. It’s also a precedent that worries the scientific community as they wrestle with how to deal with a hesitancy over vaccines and overblown expectations for a potential coronavirus vaccine.
Even the smallest, unwarranted cause for doubt could deal a severe blow to the cause of global health. But so, too, could a failure to match unrealistic expectations held by a public that is desperate for good news...