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Physicians Challenged By Vaccine Hesitancy As Efforts To Immunize More People Intensify

The COVID-19 vaccine moves from cold storage at the Department of Health to coolers and is transported to the TU Center for mass vaccination clinics.
Jackie Orchard
The COVID-19 vaccine

Hospital representatives on both sides of Lake Champlain are addressing vaccine hesitancy and any new concerns that are emerging as children aged 12 to 15 become eligible to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
This week the Adirondack Regional and the North Country Chambers of Commerce hosted physicians for a discussion on vaccine hesitancy in the region. North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas urged people to get the shot so the region can return to normal.  “We see the key purpose of doing these vaccination webinars is really being to maximize the number of people vaccinated and to do so as quickly as possible. It has never been easier. It's getting easier every week. There's no longer any inconvenience to it. You don't need appointments. You don't need to go to some specific place. There are places all over you can go without appointments. It's open now to virtually all ages. So no reason in terms of inconvenient or gee it's kind of a hassle. Gee I'm not sure I know how to use the computer to make an appointment. Those reasons are gone.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office reports that statewide hesitancy levels are about 20%.  North Country Regional Vaccination Network Chair and UVM Health Network/CVPH Medical Center Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Wouter Reitsema says about 57% of the North Country’s eligible population has been vaccinated.   “I really see two reasons people haven't gotten vaccinated. One is fear. It's fear of something. Many of which are not scientifically based but they're real nonetheless. And the other is sort of a laissez faire attitude and I think as you get into the younger populations you see that. They don't perceive that they're at much risk of COVID overall. They don't perceive that even if they get COVID they're at risk of any particular negative impact. I know that there is still roughly 40% of our population that's eligible to get the vaccine that hasn't gotten it yet. But that's the job ahead of us is to try to figure out how to reach those people.”

Adirondack Health Family Medicine Specialist Dr. Beth Bartos says vaccine hesitancy is a continuing challenge as she encounters patients every day finding reasons to avoid the shot.  “There's the typical sort of conspiracy theory reasons. The whole idea that it was given emergency passage is a big problem for a subset of people. Then there's a subgroup that's just against vaccines in general. There's a big chunk of people that are basically saying they're waiting to see that it really is as safe as the scientists say it is and that other people don't have untoward side effects or long term effects.  The people that say why bother getting it we still have to wear masks and stay six feet apart so it doesn't make any difference. But you know every week I hear a new reason. It's a moving target.”

Vermont opened registration for children 12 to 15 years old to receive the Pfizer vaccine Thursday. University of Vermont Medical Center Pediatric Infectious Disease expert Dr. Benjamin Lee expects the biggest barrier to getting kids their COVID shots will be parental hesitancy. He says the vaccine is safe, effective and the path back to normalcy.   “One of my mentors when I was in training had an expression: You’ll never find a more motivated partner in health care than a concerned parent. And I think for me framing the discussion in a way of saying how can we assure the happiest, healthiest, life for your child.  I don’t know if we should underestimate the potential appeal of being able to let our kids sort of go back to their childhood and you know grow up the way we want them to without the shadow of everything that’s been happening. And really the quickest and safest and best way to get there is for everybody to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”  


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