As 2021 reaches the halfway point, the Pacific Northwest is making great strides vaccinating the public against Covid-19. Over four million people in Washington and two million in Oregon are fully vaccinated, which accounts for more than fifty percent of the population in both states. Compared to the limited supply of vaccine doses earlier in the year, the present number of walk-in clinics and available vaccine appointments seems like a dream come true.
But even with so many opportunities for unvaccinated people to get their shot, the region’s vaccination rate is slowing. This time, rather than due to a lack of available appointments or shortages in vaccine supplies, the cause is both simpler and infinitely more complicated: many people are hesitant about getting the vaccine at all.
Vaccines have shaped the course of human history since 1796, when Edward Jenner performed the world's first vaccination for smallpox. Without vaccinations, diseases now considered minor or even extinct would still be wreaking havoc on people's health and lives. But even before COVID-19, many people have resisted vaccination, and outbreaks of easily avoidable diseases have resulted. In fact, in 2019, Southwest Washington experienced the largest measles outbreak in the state since 1990. Among people who are reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, reasons and rationales vary widely.
Though the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are generally mild, some people have balked at the thought of getting their jab because they're worried about possible complications. After completing your vaccination (after the second shot for Pfizer and Moderna or the first shot for Johnson and Johnson), typical side effects can range from a sore arm to a minor fever and body aches. These side effects generally pass within a day or two. No medical procedure is without risk; while there have been some examples of people who have had more severe reactions to the vaccine, these are extremely rare.
Unfortunately, though the internet has provided a helpful tool for many people to educate themselves, it has also facilitated rumors and misinformation. Many people hesitating to get the COVID-19 vaccine may have seen incorrect information that the vaccine is dangerous, that it's not effective, or that it's healthier to get sick and build antibodies "naturally," risking hospitalization or even death. Without accurate information from a source that individuals find credible, misinformation can easily take root, and vaccine hesitancy follows.
During these times of high political engagement and partisan feeling, the politics surrounding the pandemic and vaccine may also be a factor in a person's decision to get vaccinated. Conflicting information from different administrations and levels of government during the pandemic sowed confusion and further distrust. As a result, many people are now viewing vaccination as a political issue and may be reluctant to get vaccinated.
Many people have struggled to access legitimate information about the COVID-19 vaccine not due to apathy or misinformation but simply because most information about the vaccine might not be presented in their language. In these cases, people who cannot connect with official resources will usually default to family and friends. In communities of color, distrust of the medical system borne from historical (and modern) mistreatment has led to higher vaccine hesitancy. Sadly, the pandemic has also hit these groups especially hard.
Though vaccine hesitancy is a serious issue that our country will face in the coming months, there have already been some success stories. Seattle's Ethiopian community is one of these examples. Earlier in the pandemic, vaccination rates among the Ethiopian community were very low, mainly due to misinformation and a language barrier. However, outreach and education efforts geared at people reluctant to get the vaccine resulted in a massive shift, with over 600 people booking vaccine appointments.
Examples such as this one show how outreach and education are two crucial tools in overcoming vaccine hesitancy. Many people who have not yet had their COVID-19 vaccine aren't staunchly opposed to it. Instead, they have been battered by conflicting information from friends, family, social media, and the government and don't know what to believe.
The broad spectrum of vaccine hesitancy shows that there can be no one-size-fits-all solution to getting America vaccinated. Connecting directly with under-vaccinated communities and identifying individual sources of vaccine hesitancy is the key. It is often more effective to work with leaders within their communities who can help spread accurate vaccine information from a position of trust. Even factual information may seem suspect when handed down from a distant, faceless institution. Facing these concerns with understanding and an education-minded approach is one of the best ways to encourage more people to get their shot.
At the end of the day, the choice to get vaccinated lies with each person. However, the impacts of vaccination reverberate throughout entire communities. Med-X has worked hard to connect individuals with the resources they need throughout the pandemic, from partnering with the University of Washington to make Covid-19 testing and vaccinations more accessible for underserved communities to our in-school vaccination clinics in Pierce County. We strongly believe in ensuring all Americans have access to critical testing resources as we all fight to defeat COVID-19. However, as long as vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge, the need for accurate COVID-19 testing will remain high. To hear more about our testing services or how we can help outpatient clinics get the top-tier staff they need, contact Med-X today at 503.922.1393 or firstname.lastname@example.org.