A closer look: Vaccine Hesitancy in Macon County

by Benjamin Nelson

MACON, MO -- The World Health Organization describes vaccine hesitancy as the “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccine services. Is complex and context specific varying across time, place, and vaccines. Is influenced by factors such as complacency, convenience, and confidence.” Vaccine Hesitancy can encompass a variety of factors that play a role into someone's hesitancy whether that is lack of information, lack of accessibility to internet and other means of conducting personal research, increasing amount of misinformation and disinformation that conflicts with reliable sources within the scientific community, accessibility to the vaccine and other medical care, specific personal health conditions, unanswered questions, etc.

“What we are finding is that people who are hesitant about taking the COVID-19 vaccine fall into different groups. Some don’t have enough information. Some are waiting to see the effectiveness or side effects. Some are unsure of availability. We have some residents who have had COVID in the past and are waiting to see how personal immunity stands up,” stated Macon County Health Director Mike Chambers regarding Vaccine Hesitancy.

Bringing in a local perspective, The Home Press conducted a survey of those who have not received the vaccine. Additionally, The Macon County Health Department conducted a similar survey in which we received a summary of those results on September 23rd, 2021.Within the Home Press survey which was conducted in a few weeks and inclusive of nearly two dozen respondents, close to 70% did not completely rule out eventually receiving the vaccine; most waiting for full FDA approval which since the survey, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval for the Pfizer Vaccine for those 16 years old and above. All respondents but one remained anonymous. The survey conducted for several months by The Macon County Health Department was inclusive of 183 respondents that took the survey online and 21 folks that took the survey in-person; no names were released to the paper within the summary of results. Between the two surveys, the overwhelming reasons that respondents listed as to not receiving the vaccine were safety concerns and not being fully approved by the FDA.

Expressed in the surveys was the skepticism of how safe the vaccines were, possible side effects and long term effects. One anonymous respondent stated in The Home Press survey: “I think more might be willing if they had been honest about the side effects and unknowns. I can come up with lots of examples of side effects that are big enough not to put into your body that are unhealthy or your child’s. Most people that wanted it have had the chance to take it. Yes some kids have died but I believe they are also dying from the vaccine. We don’t know true numbers because the studies aren’t being given to us.”

A closer look: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has extensive data and information on their website pertaining to the side effects and safety/processes in-place to ensure continued monitoring of the vaccines even after they’ve been administered. Those side effects include: arm pain, fatigue, nausea, soreness, headache, and chills. This information is inclusive of data that they collected through clinical trials to current updates of side effect information being reported through Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Stated by the CDC when it comes to Long Term Effects, “Serious side effects that could cause a long-term health problem are extremely unlikely following any vaccination, including COVID-19 vaccination. Vaccine monitoring has historically shown that side effects generally happen within six weeks of receiving a vaccine dose. For this reason, the FDA required each of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines to be studied for at least two months (eight weeks) after the final dose. Millions of people have received COVID-19 vaccines, and no long-term side effects have been detected.”

To date, over 414 million doses of the vaccine have been administered throughout the United States. Additionally, there have been 9,143 deaths (0.0022%) reported to VAERS of those that have received the vaccine. According to the CDC, these deaths do not necessarily mean that they were caused by the vaccines themselves. Stated on their website: “FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause. Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem. A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records, has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines.” Featured also on the CDC’s website is the continual monitoring and data of the J&J/Janssen vaccine in relation to a rare form of blood clotting. According to the CDC’s reports, there are 47 confirmed cases of blood clotting after 15.3 million doses of the J&J vaccine being administered. Of those confirmed cases, 5 deaths have resulted from complications of those blood clots, rendering a casual relationship between the rare blood clots to the J&J vaccine. Through VAERS, the CDC also has a summary of data collected pertaining to a rare side effect relating to the inflammation of the heart (myocarditis) after receiving the mRNA vaccine. According to the CDC, as of August of 2021, 826 cases of myocarditis have been reported and met case definition. The CDC is furthering analyzing through surveys and follow-ups with patients and healthcare providers regarding this specific side effect. The majority of the cases of myocarditis have clinically recovered. To date, over 156 million doses of the Moderna vaccine have been administered throughout the United States.

To access this information referenced above pertaining to the safety of the vaccines, please click on the following link: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/safety-of-vaccines.html

Readers can also access information from clinical trials of each vaccine via their package insert/fact sheet and see the results of those trials when it comes to side effects. Clinical trial data reflects that the majority of participants experienced mild to moderate reactions after receiving the vaccine which according to health professionals, is a sign of your body building up immunity.

Pfizer fact sheet: https://www.fda.gov/media/151707/download

Moderna fact sheet: https://www.fda.gov/media/144637/download

J&J fact sheet: https://www.fda.gov/media/146304/download

Another respondent who discussed their feelings about the vaccine directly to Reporter Ben Nelson stated: “I am pro-vaccine. Since Pfizer’s new vaccine is now approved by the FDA, I have read the package insert. Unfortunately, the lactation tab doesn’t make me feel comfortable enough to receive the vaccine while still breastfeeding. Yes, it is proven that my daughter could receive antibodies as well from the vaccine, but since she has underlying kidney issues, I am just not ready to take the vaccine and risk her having adverse effects.” This individual, due to their job, didn’t want to publicly share their story, but agreed to the paper’s offer of granting anonymity.

A closer look: The lactation tab that is referenced above states, “It is not known whether COMIRNATY is excreted in human milk. Data are not available to assess the effects of COMIRNATY on the breastfed infant or on milk production/excretion. The developmental and health benefits of breastfeeding should be considered along with the mother’s clinical need for COMIRNATY and any potential adverse effects on the breastfed child from COMIRNATY or from the underlying maternal condition. For preventive vaccines, the underlying maternal condition is susceptibility to disease prevented by the vaccine.” COMIRNATY is also known as COVID-19 Vaccine mRNA. Historically speaking, pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding have been excluded from clinical trials (even before the pandemic) due to a variety of reasons including ethical and liability concerns. The research that has been reported so far to the CDC in relation to vaccination of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers show no concerns between the safety of both the mother, the baby, and the vaccine. The CDC stated, “When pregnant people receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy, their bodies build antibodies against COVID-19, similar to non-pregnant people. Antibodies made after a pregnant person received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine were found in umbilical cord blood. This means COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy might help protect babies against COVID-19. More data are needed to determine how these antibodies, similar to those produced with other vaccines, may provide protection to the baby.”

To view information relating to COVID-19 vaccination, pregnancy, and breastfeeding mothers, please click on the following link: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/pregnancy.html

Rhea Boyd who is a pediatrician and public-health advocate near San Francisco tweeted, “The unvaccinated are not a monolith of defectors.” Boyd was interviewed by The Atlantic in their article titled “America Is Getting Unvaccinated People All Wrong” and went on to bring perspective to the discussion on vaccine hesitancy by pointing out that those who are unvaccinated are being lumped into the same group as a small vocal group known as “anti-vaxxers.” Boyd stated in the article that, “The language we use around unvaccinated people comes with a judgment—a condescension that “you’re unvaccinated and it’s your choice at this point.” That attitude is papering Twitter. It’s repeated by our top public-health officials. They’re railing on the unvaccinated as if they’re holding the rest of us back from normalcy. But unvaccinated people aren’t a random group of defectors who are trying to be deviant. They’re not all anti-vaxxers. They’re our kids! Any child under 12 is in that group.” Furthermore, Boyd focused on bringing into perspective structural barriers that normally play a role in keeping different groups of people from receiving proper medical care and treatment and how those barriers could be actively playing a role in the situation of receiving (or not receiving) the COVID-19 Vaccines. Expanding on that point, Boyd went on to state that the groups that normally face structural barriers in receiving medical care on any given day are rural Americans, uninsured folks, and minority communities. In the end, Boyd remains hopeful about the vaccination situation in which she thinks that it is not undoable and that medical professionals and public-health advocates continue to have answers for the questions that some may have regarding the vaccines.

To reference the article by The Atlantic, click on: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2021/07/unvaccinated-different-anti-vax/619523/

According to data released by the State of Missouri, 38.7% of Macon County residents have received their first dose of the vaccine with 36.4% completely vaccinated. For questions pertaining to personal health and COVID-19 vaccines, consult your local health care provider and/or health department.