Coronavirus: Vaccine could be ready as early as September ...




London (CNN)Never has a vaccine been so eagerly anticipated.

Scientists are racing to produce a coronavirus inoculation on an unprecedented timescale, and some political leaders have warned that the restrictions on our lives may not be completely lifted until one is available.

That's something of a challenge to the anti-vaccine movement, many of whose members are strongly opposed to mandatory vaccines.

But the virus has also done something more startling. It has made some anti-vaxxers change their minds.

Haley Searcy, 26, from Florida, told CNN she was "fully anti-vax" when her daughter was born in 2019.

"I had seen so many accounts of kids dying from SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome] and having other dangerous reactions due to vaccines," she said, repeating the scientifically unsupported but common fear amongst vaccine skeptics that even those treatments that have undergone rigorous testing might still be dangerous.

"I was just as scared of vaccines as I was of the diseases they protect against."

Searcy said that after being advised by her daughter's pediatrician, she "begrudgingly allowed her to be vaccinated," but still suspected that vaccines were unnecessary and dangerous. The coronavirus outbreak has changed her view. "Since Covid-19, I've seen firsthand what these diseases can do when they're not being fought with vaccines," said Searcy.

"My mother has a lung disease, so if she gets Covid-19 there is no fighting it. I learned as much as I could to speak out against misinformation in the hopes that I could convince more people to stay home and follow social distancing so that she won't get sick."

"So many lives are at stake, including people I care about who are very vulnerable."

In the process of researching how the world had dealt with pandemics in the past, Searcy learned about how recent pandemics like swine flu were fought with vaccines. "And I've learned just how rigorous vaccine trials are before they're made available to the public," she said.

She also looked up information about countries that had minimized the spread of the coronavirus.

"I wasn't actively looking for vaccine information but the more I learned, the more I realized it would help and the easier it became to recognize the lack of science in anti-vax arguments," she said.

In a number of countries, including the UK and France, concerns expressed by some people in recent years about vaccines in general have softened, according to polling carried out for the Vaccine Confidence Project, a research group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

VCP Director Heidi Larson said the figures showed that, as the number of deaths from the coronavirus increased, and public awareness of its seriousness grew, people were more willing to accept a vaccine. "I think it definitely is provoking people to rethink a lot of things," she said, but she cautioned that more data was needed to track reaction over time.

She said some were "going to the opposite side" and were mistrustful of a potential Covid-19 vaccine.

"This is an important time to reflect on the value of vaccines," said Larson. "If we had had a vaccine for this, we wouldn't be locked up in a room, the economies wouldn't be crumbling, we would have been a whole different world. The question I would ask is, do we have to wait for something to be this bad?"

When vaccines become widespread and people don't see a threat, they grow more skeptical, Larson said. But she added that protecting society "totally depends on public cooperation."

A worrying trend

Most children today receive life-saving vaccines, but health services have noticed a worrying pattern of declining uptake in recent years.

In the UK, just 33 of 149 local authorities met their 95% vaccination target for diseases preventable by immunization in 2018-2019, according to National Health Service figures.

Last year the United States experienced its greatest number of measles cases since 1992, mostly among people who were not vaccinated. In 2019 the UK lost its measles-free status, a designation conferred by the World Health Organization.

And as Covid-19 surges, a UNICEF report warned that more than 117 million children are at risk of missing out on life-saving measles vaccinations. UNICEF urged countries to continue essential immunization, but said postponement could happen where the risk is "unacceptably high."

The term anti-vax "has not been helpful," according to Larson. She said while there are some committed activists, "there are a lot of other people out there who are on the fence, hesitant or questioning."

Isaac Lindenberger, who grew up with a mother in Ohio who opposes vaccinations, believes it is harder to deny the effectiveness of vaccines when you're facing a pandemic.