Kimberly Marselas

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about trust over the last week or so, especially after reading a real pick-me-up in the Washington Post about how the pandemic will lead to the splintering of societies.

We’ve already seen what a year of sickness and upheaval can do to a country, and the National Intelligence Council says it’s just the start. Their long-term forecast calls for “a widening gap between what people demand from their leaders and what they can actually deliver.”

COVID-19 “has reminded the world of its fragility” and “shaken long-held assumptions” about how well governments and institutions could respond to a catastrophe, the Post reported.

The truth is, we may be expecting way too much of our government even as we’re beginning to think too little of the people we interact with and depend upon more intimately, including our healthcare providers.

Yes, I expected my country to mount an aggressive campaign against the coronavirus, and, yes, at many turns over the last year, I was disappointed. But when we look at the scale of the federal approach to the coronavirus, at the rapid creation of vaccines that may bring our enemy to the precipice of defeat, it’s hard not to feel at least a little impressed.

Then came yesterday’s stunning news that federal officials were seeking a pause of J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine, which admittedly left me feeling wobbly.

I’m most concerned about the effect this will have on the nation’s ongoing vaccination campaign. How do we get the naysayers on board now, especially the many who’ll say, “I told you so”?

No matter what is revealed or decided in the next few days, this will have dealt a stunning blow to vaccine confidence, even among those who aren’t in the apparently at-risk category of women between 18 and 48.

What do we expect?

In my silly little head, the government pause shows our safeguards work as they should. As an “extremely rare” condition became associated with the vaccine, Johnson & Johnson shared that information with regulators. Those regulators have now called for a stoppage to reassess the drug’s safety and to alert healthcare providers to this new, potential complication.

I don’t expect any vaccine to be foolproof. I expect it to offer protection and for the benefits to outweigh the risks among the vast majority of people inoculated.

So why do some of us continue putting our faith in venerable old institutions, while others don’t have an ounce of trust to spare?

Here’s where “expecting too much” comes in. Even before the J&J news, anti-vaxxers (and some people who are hesitant about getting a COVID-19 specifically) seemed to expect side-effect-free shots all around. 

Today, some are surely embracing this newly reported complication as proof of a previous cover-up or a rush job. But nearly 7 million Americans have already had the shot without reporting significant reactions. The clotting being investigated is thought to have affected six women across the entire country.

For the record, I am not discounting the risk of clotting, nor am I saying the vaccine should be given a blanket pass to remain on the market.

But I’m going to keep on trusting the system as officials figure out next steps. 

One reason is that I don’t put my trust in government alone. I’m with my fellow Americans in their belief that nurses are the most honest and trusted professionals in the U.S., with doctors close behind and pharmacists rising through the ranks during the COVID-19 crisis.

These are the people who are most often administering vaccines, and this is what I meant earlier about “thinking too little.” Would these healthcare professionals really be putting shots in arms if they didn’t trust the science?

So, please, let’s keep asking hard questions about the vaccines — all of them — but please also accept the scientifically backed responses we get from our leaders when they respond.

If your questions linger, talk to a healthcare professional you know and trust (maybe in your case, a coworker). Ask for facts and resources; don’t just do the increasingly American thing of seeking opinions that validate your own.

Meanwhile, let’s expect a little less perfection (albeit no less safety) from massive bureaucracies and start thinking a little more of the people in our communities doing the hard work meant to protect us all.

Otherwise, we’re just a nation without trust, waiting for the crack that splinters us right down the middle.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.