A COVID-19 vaccine: It’s about more than physical health
The physical threat of COVID-19 is clear, which is why many Americans have spent the better part of a year quarantining and social distancing. With time, it has also become evident that the pandemic is having another serious health effect: mental health challenges.
Strains on mental health have both short- and long-term consequences. First, the fear of getting physically sick and the isolation of quarantining are taking a toll on many individuals’ mental wellbeing. In one survey, 53 percent of Americans reported their mental health has been negatively affected due to COVID-19-related worry and stress. Second, and perhaps more important, are the long-term negative mental health effects of COVID-19. One researcher from the University of British Columbia estimates that life will not return to normal for approximately 10 to 15 percent of people due to their diminished mental wellbeing.
In the words of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the best way to prevent long-term complications is to prevent COVID-19,” something many people have been doing in their quarantining and social distancing efforts. We now have a new tool in the prevention toolbox: a vaccine.
Americans’ views on the COVID-19 vaccine
Not all Americans are willing to get vaccinated. Approximately 60 percent of Americans say they would definitely or probably get vaccinated, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Of the remaining 40 percent who say they definitely or probably would not get vaccinated, almost half of that group (18 percent) report they would possibly get vaccinated as more information becomes available. Factors that influence the decision one way or the other include trust in the vaccine development process; the level of personal concern around getting a serious case of COVID-19; and personal practices regarding other vaccines, such as the flu shot.
Tips to manage vaccine hesitancy
As individuals contemplate the decision to get a vaccine, they should consider mental health along with physical health. As more and more people get vaccinated, individuals’ fear of getting sick wanes, and they gain more confidence in returning to a life they once lived. Over time, that renewed confidence means returning to shops and restaurants; travelling; reuniting with families and friends; going to the movies; attending sports events and more.
The downstream effect? An improved economy, more stability, and a return to our healthier physical, psychological and emotional selves.
Mental Health America (MHA) provides advice to healthcare workers – some of the professionals first in line to get the vaccine – on how to manage any hesitancy they may have about getting vaccinated. For other people concerned about the COVID-19 vaccine, the advice still applies.
- Do your research. Identify what is worrying you about the vaccine and then learn as much as you can about that concern, such as side effects, how the vaccine works etc.
- Stay current. Keep up with progress around the vaccine but be sure that your resources are reliable. MHA recommends sticking with a vetted vaccine tracker.
- Look to officials whom you trust for information. For many people, that is their primary care physician. On the national scene, it might be the CDC or the World Health Organization.
- Weigh benefits against the risk. Doing your research will help you to do so.
- Make decisions in your best interest. Take time with your decision. If you’re not a healthcare worker or like professional, you have the time to gather and assess all of the factors and decide what is best for you.
Many decisions are some form of a cost/benefit analysis. Beacon Health Options asks that, as individuals weigh the decision for themselves, they consider mental health as an important factor in that decision – their own and that of their communities.