As of Monday afternoon, 1.1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in North Carolina, according to data posted on the state Department of Health and Human Services website. Of those, 38,578 were administered in Guilford County and 42,262 in Forsyth County.

As individuals nationwide call to schedule appointments or wait hours in their cars for their chance at receiving one of the vaccines, there are still portions of the population who remain skeptical about vaccination for one reason or another. According to an international survey by market research firm Ipsos conducted in mid-January, only 63 percent of those from the United States said they would be willing to get the vaccine if it were available to them. The survey allowed for multiple-response and found that 60 percent said they were worried about side effects, while 37 percent said they didn’t think the vaccine would be effective. Twenty percent said they were against vaccines in general and 26 percent gave other reasons. Among the countries where the survey was conducted, the United States also ranked as one of the lowest in terms of how much respondents had changed their mind in favor of getting the vaccine since mid-December, showing only a 4 percent increase.

Area health professionals like Dr. Pamela Oliver, the executive vice president for Novant Health and the president of the Novant Health Physician Network, are encouraging people to get the vaccine to help curb the spread of the virus.

Dr. Oliver receives the COVID-19 vaccine (photo courtesy of Novant Health)

“I want people to understand that COVID-19 vaccine is the most effective way we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe,” Oliver said in an email to Triad City Beat. “Yes, the 3 W’s continue to be important, but the vaccine is key to moving past the pandemic.”

Oliver said having questions and making an informed decision about the vaccine is a “good thing” and that individuals should look to reputable sources like the CDC for answers. Here’s what Oliver and other local health experts had to say in response to varying reasons why individuals might be hesitant to get the vaccine.

I feel like the vaccine was rushed, and I don’t trust it.

  • Dr. Pamela Oliver, executive vice president for Novant Health and the president of the Novant Health Physician Network: The actual technology around [messenger RNA] vaccines has been in development for about a decade. The reason this seemed quick, but really wasn’t quick, is because a lot of things came together all at once. Number one, there was a common enemy. A pandemic virus appeared on the scene as a case for this technology that already existed. Number two, a lot of money was poured into this from governments and industries around the world. Number three, thousands upon thousands of people volunteered to be part of vaccine clinical trials. In the end, it all came together at the right time. No steps were skipped. Scientists from all over the world were involved. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must verify that the vaccines are safe and can prevent COVID-19. The FDA can authorize the use of vaccine under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
  • DeAnne Brooks, chief pharmacy officer for Cone Health: The vaccines were built on years of work to create vaccines for similar viruses using a method that has been studied for over a decade. No steps were skipped in the studies to grant emergency use authorization. Many steps were run concurrently instead of consecutively.
  • According to the FDA: Vaccines undergo a rigorous review of laboratory, clinical and manufacturing data to ensure the safety and effectiveness of these products. On Dec. 11 and 18 the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. In determining whether to issue an emergency use authorization, the FDA evaluates the available evidence and assesses any known or potential risks and any known or potential benefits. If the benefit-risk assessment is favorable, the product is made available to the agency. All the COVID-19 vaccines being used have gone through rigorous studies to ensure they are as safe as possible.

This vaccine is totally new, and I don’t understand how it compares to other vaccines.

  • Dr. Pamela Oliver: The current COVID-19 vaccines use novel mRNA technology, and do not contain the COVID-19 virus itself. Traditional flu vaccines use either live attenuated (weakened) flu virus or inactivated virus. Unlike some other vaccines, the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are not developed in eggs and do not contain any egg protein. Neither the Pfizer-BioNTech nor Moderna vaccine contain any preservatives or any latex.
  • DeAnne Brooks, chief pharmacy officer for Cone Health: Unlike other vaccines that contain dead or inactivated virus, the Modern and Pfizer vaccine use messenger RNA technology that tells our bodies to create antibodies to the virus.

I don’t want to get the vaccine because I’m concerned about side effects.

  • Dr. Pamela Oliver, executive vice president for Novant Health and the president of the Novant Health Physician Network: It’s common for people to experience mild to moderate expected effects after vaccination, particularly after the second dose. In fact, the CDC estimates that at least 80 percent of people will develop at least one symptom. Arm soreness is the most common symptom, but people could also experience a low fever, headache, body aches, and fatigue. Usually, the symptoms go away within one to three days. These are all normal responses; the symptoms are a good sign the immune system is doing its job. Some people won’t experience any symptoms at all, but that doesn’t mean the vaccine isn’t working. While some people are concerned about immediate effects, others worry about long-term effects. It is going to take some time for us to know of any long-term effects. However, we do know mRNA is very fragile and degrades quickly. Therefore, we anticipate post-vaccination symptoms will only occur in the very short term, if at all.
  • DeAnne Brooks, chief pharmacy officer for Cone Health: The current two vaccines were very well tolerated with no serious safety concerns in the clinical trials. There have been allergic reactions that occur, which is why recipients are monitored for a minimum of 15 minutes after vaccination.
  • According to the CDC: If you have pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter medicine like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. To reduce pain and discomfort at the injection site, apply a clean, cool wet washcloth over the area. To reduce discomfort from fever, drink plenty of fluids and dress lightly.

I’m afraid the vaccine won’t be effective against the new variants.

  • Dr. Pamela Oliver: Right now, we believe that our current vaccines still provide significant protection against the identified variants. What’s most concerning about the variants is that most people are not vaccinated. Since the variants are more contagious, it creates the possibility of future peaks in cases and hospitalizations. One of the variants has already been identified in Guilford County so it’s more important than ever that people practice the three W’s (wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance) and, when eligible, seize the opportunity to get vaccinated.
  • According to the CDC: Viruses constantly change through mutation and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and persist. So far, studies suggest that antibodies generated through vaccination with currently authorized vaccines recognize these variants. This is being closely investigated and more studies are underway.

In the past, healthcare systems have mistreated marginalized individuals through forced sterilization or medical testing, so I have a hard time trusting the health care system.

  • Dr. Pamela Oliver: One of the first things we must do as a society is understand and acknowledge the historic distrust of the medical establishment by communities of color. With a history that includes the Tuskegee syphilis study and surgical experiments on enslaved people — not to mention the ongoing disparities they confront in the US healthcare system, we understand why some communities, especially Black communities, do not trust us. That distrust is well-founded and we in the medical community must work to earn that trust back.
  • DeAnne Brooks, chief pharmacy officer for Cone Health: Acknowledging our difficult history of unethical research practices is important. It is also important to mention that in the studies conducted for these vaccines, 1 in 5 participants were people of color.
  • According to the CDC: Long-standing system health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. Racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately represented among COVID-19 cases.

To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit the CDC website. To learn about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, visit covid19.ncdhhs.gov/findyourspot.

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