COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy: The Final Hurdle

The United States has made tremendous progress in the COVID-19 vaccination effort, but one issue threatens to set back the progress that we have made.

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“I think that misinformation surrounding the Coronavirus vaccines is definitely contributing to vaccine hesitancy, and I do not believe that we are doing nearly enough as a nation to combat this misinformation”, said Sandy Gallo, a retired teacher from New York State.

Since President Biden took office in January 2021, there is no doubt that the vaccine effort has made great strides. In January 2021, only 3 million Americans in total were vaccinated, and the Coronavirus was still a major threat across the country. Now, over 100 days later, more than 175 million Americans have received at least one dose of a Coronavirus vaccine. Mask and social distancing mandates have loosened in numerous states, and there is a powerful sense of hope for the future. This is a tremendous achievement for Biden, one that he has not been shy to tout, but there is one final hurdle looming on the horizon that threatens to undo all of our progress – vaccine hesitancy.

With a total of 175-million Americans vaccinated, that leaves approximately 155-million Americans who have yet to take the shot. Despite our tremendous progress in the fight against the COVID-19 virus, vaccine hesitancy is a growing concern for medical professionals and government officials alike, which threatens to derail us on our path to reach herd immunity.

Herd immunity will be achieved when a large majority of the population is fully inoculated. In the United States, the golden number to reach herd immunity is roughly 70% of the population. Joe Biden has set an ambitious goal to achieve herd immunity by July 4th, 2021, and mark the end of the Coronavirus pandemic with a joyous celebration on Independence Day. We have made great strides in the vaccine effort over the past few months, but vaccine hesitancy has put this goal in jeopardy. The United States currently sits at 53% of Americans fully vaccinated, with only one month to go until Biden’s fourth of July deadline.

If we are unable to reach a level of 70% of Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the consequences could be dire. With new coronavirus variants spreading every day, it is only a matter of time before they reach the United States. We face the possibility of new spikes in Coronavirus cases across the country, and possibly even a second round of lockdown measures. This fear is a very real possibility for experts as vaccination rates continue to slow.

When the Coronavirus vaccines first became available, they were in high demand and exceedingly difficult to obtain. If you were somehow able to book a vaccine appointment, it was like winning the lottery. Although they were initially in short supply, in the present day this could not be further from the truth. There are now thousands of unused vaccine doses going to waste.

When the vaccine shots were still high in demand, the United States was administering an average of 4-million shots a day. This number has now dropped to 1.05 million vaccinations a day, per the most recent reporting. This staggering 2.95 million a day decrease in vaccination rates is very concerning for the future and a poor indicator for the future prospect of herd immunity. Now that the vaccines are so widely available, we can determine that this issue is no longer caused by low supply, but rather by increasingly low demand.

One major cause of vaccine hesitancy is the recent controversy surrounding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Many Americans were excited when J&J released their single-shot coronavirus vaccine, and many who were wary of vaccines chose to get the J&J vaccine because of the unique single-shot concept. Sandy Gallo – a retired teacher from New York State – said just that, “The single-shot concept was a huge factor in why I chose to get the J&J vaccine over the others. In the beginning, I was definitely hesitant, and nervous to get vaccinated at all, so I was glad that I had a single shot option.” Many Americans shared this sentiment, with the J&J vaccine becoming extremely popular and almost impossible to find.

Sadly, some of the allure of the J&J vaccine quickly diminished when reports surfaced that a small number of women who received the vaccine experienced blood clots. Only 28 cases of blood clots were ever reported, but that was enough to change some people’s attitude toward the J&J vaccine. Now, if you ask many people about the J&J vaccine, the first thing that comes to mind is the rare blood clots, rather than the overwhelming benefits of the vaccine.

This unfortunate incident surrounding the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was the perfect storm to fuel a rapid spread of misinformation. Since then, the level of misinformation surrounding the Coronavirus vaccine has gotten completely out of hand. There are false claims that the vaccine can cause everything from infertility to paralysis, despite not a shred of scientific evidence to back up these claims. Malicious individuals have very successfully utilized social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook with the goal of spreading this harmful misinformation and creating a fear of the vaccine. Gallo said, “I think that these social media companies share some of the blame in the spread of vaccine misinformation. In my opinion, they should police their platforms better, and ensure that this false information is unable to take hold.”

Despite the recent misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, some Americans are hesitant to be vaccinated for different reasons. Black Americans are historically hesitant of vaccines, due to unfortunate events of the past. Therefore, convincing these individuals to trust the Coronavirus vaccine is no easy feat. The Biden Administration has worked tirelessly to ensure that these communities have equal access to the vaccine, as well as extensive education about its benefits. 

Due to the administration’s efforts, we have begun to overcome traditional vaccine hesitancy among groups such as Black and Latinx Americans, which is a tremendous achievement. Gallo said, “The fact that they targeted many major cities with the vaccine, in the beginning, was smart. I hope that the campaigns to get these hesitant individuals vaccinated will ultimately be successful.

Recently, a new group of hesitant individuals has arisen, Americans who live in more rural, Midwestern areas of the country. As the nation continues to get vaccinated, many states in the middle of the country continue to lag behind. This is an issue that the Biden administration is currently struggling with as they work towards achieving herd immunity. Gallo said, “People in the Midwest have a completely different lifestyle and mindset than people on the coasts, and they may not deem it necessary to get a vaccine. We can’t expect them to act in the same way.” Regardless, if we want to reach herd immunity, we are going to have to find a way to bridge the gap and appeal to this group of Americans. These individuals make up a sizable portion of the population, and without them, herd immunity might not be possible.

Regardless of the challenges that face us, Americans have always demonstrated an amazing determination to succeed. The past year of lockdowns and separation during the Coronavirus pandemic was difficult for us all, but there is hope on the horizon. With a new administration in office, and a robust COVID-19 vaccination effort underway, I remain hopeful that we will reduce the Coronavirus’ threat into a more manageable chronic problem. Perhaps we might even achieve herd immunity. Gallo said, “I am very hopeful that we will reach herd immunity in the future, and when we do, it will be a great achievement for our country.” 

With a total of 175-million Americans vaccinated, that leaves approximately 155-million Americans who have yet to take the shot. Despite our tremendous progress in the fight against the COVID-19 virus, vaccine hesitancy is a growing concern for medical professionals and government officials alike, which threatens to derail us on our path to reach herd immunity.

 

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