Despite statistics, some still hesitate to get COVID-19 immunization

The effectiveness of the vaccines stands at an impressive 95 and 94 percent, respectively, for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, health officials say.

The demand for the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines is outstripping supply as appointments for vaccinations get filled as soon as they are posted.

The effectiveness of the vaccines stands at 95 percent, and side effects are minimal, health officials say. Kitsap County residents are clamoring to get vaccinated; the number of doses in early March hovered close to 2,000 per day. Nearly 17 percent of county residents have received at least one dose of the vaccination while 10.4 percent have received their second shot, the health district says.

But the eagerness to get vaccinated is not shared by all. While nearly two-thirds of Americans are willing to take an FDA-approved vaccine, according to a Gallup poll, one out of three are hesitant.

“Everybody’s decision about whether or not they want to be vaccinated is individual and very personal,” said Dr. Gib Morrow, health officer for Kitsap Public Health District.

Reasons not to include: concerns over side effects, a fear a person can catch COVID from the shot or believing the pandemic is not real. Another reasons is the speed at which the vaccines were developed.

“The name Operation Warp Speed may not inspire a tremendous amount of confidence,” Morrow said.

Reports indicate the fastest any vaccine had previously been developed was four years for the mumps in the 1960s.

Morrow endorses their use. “They are incredibly safe and effective — and they work,” he said. “People that are hesitant to take vaccines are not the ones contacting us right now. We are seeing the people that want [to get the vaccine] yesterday.”

He said supply is the problem. “Right now, the primary issue isn’t vaccine hesitancy — it is vaccine supply. We just don’t have enough vaccines right now to get them out to eligible people who want them.”

Politics also appears to play a role in whether someone is willing to be vaccinated. Democrats are willing to get it at a rate of 91 percent, while Republicans are at 51 percent, according to Gallup’s website, even though the vaccine was developed during President Trump’s administration.

“I don’t know the extent to which politicization of this whole pandemic has impacted people’s willingness to take the vaccines,” Morrow confessed. “I think people, by and large, understand that this is a real pandemic, that’s it has been a huge global issue, that we had a half-million deaths related to it.”

There have been reports nationally that some non-citizens have been reluctant to sign-up for the immunization out of fear of raising a red flag with immigration authorities. That should not be a concern, Morrow said.

“I think it’s important to get out there that no provider who is giving vaccines needs to get your Social Security number. We need to get their name, date of birth and, where possible, their race, ethnicity, age and some sort of confirmation of their eligibility. We are really trying to make this a low barrier and make sure those kinds of constraints do not prevent people from coming to get vaccinated.”

Personal information goes into national and state immunization databases and is solely used to track vaccinations.

Cost may also be an obstacle but that should not be the case, Morrow said, adding there is no charge with anything related to COVID.

“That’s true for testing, for treatment and certainly true for vaccination,” he said.

Members of minority groups have been distrustful of the vaccine based on a historical distrust of the medical field.

“Communities of color, including Black and Latinx, have been hit hardest by COVID-19 nationwide,” according to the health district’s website.

Morrow agreed: “Communities who have experienced discrimination and injustice in their daily lives are going to be less likely to trust that vaccines are safe and effective, especially when they are not run-of-the-mill routine vaccines — which these are not.”

Only 14 percent of Blacks and 34 percent of Latinx said they trust the COVID-19 vaccine, according to UnidosUS, the NAACP and COVID Collaborative.

To address historical mistrust, the health district formed a group of community leaders and healthcare providers to focus on developing ways to promote confidence in getting a COVID-19 shot.

Tracy Flood, an attorney and president of the Bremerton NAACP, said the new collaborative is designed to help the medical community build relationships with minority communities and promote equity in the distribution of the vaccine.

Morrow said that should help. “These people are influencers. They can really help the cause of getting people to trust and accept these vaccines.”

Also, a December survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 29 percent of health care workers were hesitant about getting the vaccine.

“I personally don’t know anybody in health care who has been offered a vaccine that has declined it,” Morrow said. “I don’t know the demographic makeup [of those surveyed.] I do think there are workers in health-care settings that include food services and delivery [people] that may be members of ethnic or racial or minority groups that are more likely to be skeptical than others.”

As reports surface of more transmissible variants, the pressure is mounting to get people vaccinated to avoid another rise in COVID cases. That places a burden on medical officials to convince skeptics to become participants.

“I think the first thing to do is to lead with listening,” Morrow said. “Make sure you understand where each individual is coming from in terms of their reluctance. I think it’s really important to avoid being judgmental.”

He said changing information about the coronavirus also is an issue.

“We have seen repeatedly throughout this pandemic that we really don’t know everything. As we go along, new information is always accruing — that’s really the nature of science. But it’s important to acknowledge that uncertainty.”

Morrow emphasized that the language medical experts use when dealing with the public is key.

“Where possible, use straightforward language that is accessible to people that they are able to relate to and understand. I think it’s important to share the information we know and do it in a crystal-clear fashion.”