At the end of January The Centers for Disease Control reported that just short of 50 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been distributed throughout the country. So far 62% of this supply has been used, but there is a long way to go. According to Serpil Erzurum, from Lerner Research Institute, “ …roughly 50% to 80% of the U.S. population will need to be vaccinated to reach the herd immunity threshold. Thus far only 7.6% of the population has received one vaccine dose and only 1.7% has received two.
Out of all the states, Indiana and Kentucky fall squarely in the middle and are very close to the national average when it comes to the percentage of the population administered vaccine doses and the amount of supply used.
On Feb. 1 David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote, “The vaccine news continues to be better than many people realize.” He believes that the public discussion of the vaccines continues to be much more negative than the current results warrant. Most importantly he maintains that while they may not avert all COVID-19 infections, all five vaccines have thus far “eliminated COVID-19 deaths “and “drastically reduced hospitalizations.” This positive drift even includes some evidence that the vaccines are effective against the virus’ evolving variants, which has been a major question. The vaccines may not prevent every illness, but they apparently make the course of the disease much less severe. Despite the good news, not all the data is in and even when more information is available, the study of possible long-term effects may take years.
There are still, however, many Americans who are reluctant to be vaccinated. A Texas A&M survey last summer found that more than 31% of Americans said that they did not intend to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available. Minorities, women, and people with conservative political leanings were the most likely to reject the vaccine.
Last December, a survey from the Pew Research Center found that Black Americans were the most skeptical when it came to vaccines. Less than 43% said they would definitely or probably get vaccinated. Emergency Medicine physicians Benjamin Thomas from Northern California and Monique Smith from Atlanta wrote in a New York Times op-ed that “…vaccine reluctance is a direct consequence of the medical system’s mistreatment of Black people.” They cite past atrocities, such as the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which they say illustrates the historic “culture of medical exploitation, abuse and neglect of Black Americans.” Psychologist Arthur Evans Jr. from the American Psychological Association says, “Some populations are understandably less likely to accept vaccinations due to a legacy of mistrust rooted in unethical public health practices.”
As the vaccines have become available, medical facilities across the country report that vaccine refusal rates among staff members, including front line workers (many of whom are minorities), generally range from 40% to 60% of the workforce. An earlier survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that overall, 29% of healthcare workers said that they were reluctant to be vaccinated. Most are concerned about potential side effects and many voiced a lack of trust in the government to make sure that the vaccines were safe and effective.
Other reasons that people give for refusal to get the vaccine include a belief that the pandemic is a hoax and thus the vaccines are not needed, guilt because they believe that other people should be getting the vaccine first or before them, and concerns about not only immediate side effects, but also concerns about long-terms consequences especially as they relate to future reproductive health.
For a small group of people, vaccine reluctance is associated with just getting the injection. Research shows that approximately 20% of the population has some fear of needles. About 10% of that number have a full blown phobic reaction to needles or injections. This excessive and irrational fear may lead to avoiding getting any medical procedure involving the use of needles.
As a child it seemed like I was constantly getting shots and all those lollipops never really made up for it. For awhile when my wife Diane and I lived in Florida, our insurance company sent us to a particular physician, who we referred to as “the shot doctor.” No matter what your problem, if you made an appointment you could count on getting a shot of some sort. I don’t ever remember him prescribing pills, but he sure believed in injections. The kids hated to go see him and I avoided him, too. To be fair, however, you didn’t have to wait for a regimen of pills to take effect.
I’m not truly afraid of needles, although I still look away when I get jabbed or they take a blood sample. I also don’t like watching all those vaccine injections that they are showing on television these days, which must be difficult for those with needle phobias. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves exploring and changing your thoughts and feelings about needles and other fear, imitation and exposure therapy is used to desensitize people, and occasionally medication is used to treat such phobias.
I’ve notice that some folks seem unsure about getting vaccinated because they haven’t personally seen that it is safe. Reading research studies, analyzing statistics, or even listening to experts are not the methods they typically employ in order to know and believe something. These folks need to see what happens to people they actually know, with their own eyes, and have first-hand knowledge. “Doubting Thomas” comes to mind.
For some people, vaccination reluctance can be a combination of physical, psychological, cultural and financial barriers. They may lack transportation, be unable to take off work, or can’t afford the loss of income. To encourage vaccinations Evans says, “It is necessary to address these potential roadblocks directly by making vaccines easily available, being transparent about their effects and enlisting trusted spokespeople to go into communities and speak frankly about the need to get inoculated.”
Employers can help increase vaccination rates with incentives, including adequate time off with pay. Healthcare workers can help by providing a clear recommendation, adopting an encouraging positive approach with questioning patients, and being proactive in helping get appointments made. Finally, we all can help by sharing our positive experiences with one another and getting up-to-date and accurate information.