Tennessee faces more reluctance to take the COVID vaccine than just about any state in the country, judging by the state’s comparatively low COVID vaccination rates. But even the surveys don’t allow for people to explain the nuance of their hang-ups.
So WPLN asked listeners to put their most complicated concerns into words.
A handful told us they’re anti-vaxxers: They don’t take other shots, so why would start with this one?
Quite a few people said that, simply, there hasn’t been enough research on the long-term effects of the vaccines or that they’re approved only for emergency use right now. There’s truth to both of those points, though experts say there’s far more risk associated with COVID than the vaccine.
Then a fair number cited the roughly 1% mortality rate of COVID in the U.S., which to them, felt low even though it’s resulted in 12,200 deaths here in Tennessee and is 10 times that of seasonal influenza. Ultimately, they’re more afraid of the vaccine than the virus.
“I only know a hand full of people that have had it, and none of them have had severe,” says Chris Freeman of White House. “Risk getting it: moderate; severe disease: low; death: miniscule. Concern for others is zero because managed risk.”
Some misgivings are complex
Pregnant women and new mothers have had special concerns. One from South Nashville said she was encouraged by the recent studies showing the vaccines are safe for pregnant women. But she was just a few weeks away from delivery and figured it wouldn’t hurt to wait. Not to mention she doesn’t want to deal with the potential for side effects, which could make you feel crummy for a day.
A breastfeeding mother from Lebanon wanted more information on what she’s passing to her child and notes that there has not been much research on this front.
Many of the issues are related to personal health conditions. A woman in West Nashville said she wants the shot but her doctor discouraged it because she’s had some strange symptoms lately that they want to get figured out. Another from North Nashville has had a strange reaction to cortisone injections — she lost the ability to speak for a while — so she just didn’t want to test her luck with the vaccine.
A woman from Bradyville in Cannon County said she wants the vaccine, but she has anxiety about medications — an irrational fear that they could be life-threatening. She says she’s working up the courage.
A wait-and-see vaxxer
There is also a sizable “nobody can convince me to take this shot” crowd in Tennessee. About 45% of white, rural conservatives said basically that, when the Tennessee Health Department conducted its more scientific survey a few weeks ago.
Other surveys and even real-world vaccination data in the South have linked support for President Trump to hesitancy.
“There’s a rabid subset of conservatives who just go into panic mode and ‘trust no one’ becomes their motto. And when you have friends who are like that, it’s weird,” says Daniel Sinclair of Spring Hill, a recent transplant from California who works in software development.
He responded to WPLN’s callout to hear from people who have held off on getting vaccinated. And he’s thoughtful about his reasons for reluctance. Sinclair says he doesn’t totally trust pharmaceutical companies. But he generally trusts scientists and public health experts. And he’s done his homework.
He knows that there is a second generation of shots around the corner. So he’s starting to think he may hold out, because they’re supposed to be more protective against the new strains of the coronavirus.
“If we wait longer, maybe more of the things that were missed in the very quick testing may come out,” he says. “So if we wait, instead of just getting a booster [in a year], we’ll be able to get just that one [shot] and avoid any complications with the ones that were first to market.”
But it’s getting increasingly hard to find people like Sinclair.
Despite surveys finding that a majority of holdouts remain convincible, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are having a difficult time locating them. The hospital is one of the trial sites for Moderna’s variant vaccine. They need people like Sinclair who are willing to get the vaccine and just haven’t yet. They’re finding that most people who were highly motivated to get vaccinated have already done it.
We’re still listening