The University of Rhode Island’s Academic Health Collaborative held a multidisciplinary panel discussion regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and the importance of widespread compliance to help the state recover from the pandemic.

Dr. Andrea Rusnock, a professor in the history department, spoke about how knowledge from the past can assist in creating a reliable vaccination process today. She described how practices from past pandemics and epidemics have evolved into the vaccinations we know today. Rusnock said it is vital to look at past scientific developments to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Vaccination has played a key role in changing our disease environment through disease plans and through routine childhood vaccination,” Rusnock said.

Dr. Philip Chan, a medical director at the Rhode Island Department of Health, spoke about his experience throughout this pandemic as a health care worker and shared information about the upcoming vaccine. According to Chan, Rhode Island is looking at safety, minimization of morbidity, efficient distribution and equal access to guide the state’s vaccine rollout.

Chan described the prioritization process, which is determined by many factors, including the well-being of healthcare providers who will be distributing vaccines.

“People die because they’re obviously infected with COVID, but the other reason that people die is because the health care system gets overwhelmed and can’t provide the needed care to people who get sick,” Chan said. “Protecting our health care workforce has been critical to ensure a reduction in morbidity and mortality.”

Rhode Island will also prioritize vaccinating the elderly, immunocompromised and those at correctional facilities who face tremendous outbreaks. 

Chan said that the state’s vaccine supply is controlled by the federal government and professionals are working to administer the vaccine as swiftly as possible. He said that he is optimistic for complete regularity by the fall. 

Chan emphasized that this vaccine is compliant with all health protocols and was reviewed by a subcommittee to ensure that Rhode Islanders receive a safe vaccine.

“No one is going to force you to get [the vaccine], but what I want people to do is to base their decisions on science and facts, to understand the risks and the benefits, and to not make a decision based on misinformation,” Chan said.

Marc Hutchison, chairman of the political science department, also addressed hesitance to get the vaccine throughout the state. He noted that a frightening percentage of citizens are hesitant to receive vaccinations, many of whom are Black Americans, conservative religious objectors, libertarians or highly liberal naturalists, according to research conducted by Hutchison and his team in 2017.

“This is a real challenge to explain because it doesn’t fit neatly into easy narratives or red-blue divides,” Hutchison said.

Dr. Cheryl Foster, a philosophy specialist at URI, talked about the vaccine from the view of ethics. Foster considered that, although some Rhode Islanders see it as ethical to refuse the vaccine, their actions have effects that reach farther than their own bodies. Community members should work collectively to eradicate the harm of COVID-19, according to Foster.

The data is on the side of vaccines, according to Foster, though some may still not believe in their efficacy. She emphasized that society must trust that hardworking medical professionals are acting with good intentions and virtue.

“What I invite everyone to think about is: sometimes what we should do is maximize the benefit and minimize harm, but we don’t want to lose sight of justice and equity,” said Foster. 

The event was held Wednesday and served as the University’s most recent addition to their webinar series on the pandemic. For additional information on the vaccine and Rhode Island’s efforts, visit covid.ri.gov.