Reeves: ‘Vaccine hesitancy’ making it harder to get more shots in Mississippians’ arms

Health experts stress those with concerns should talk to their primary care physician first
Updated: Mar. 24, 2021 at 8:13 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While almost a quarter of Mississippians have already gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at this point, state leaders and health experts remain concerned about vaccine demand slowing down because of something Gov. Tate Reeves called “vaccine hesitancy.”

“There’s this great question out there, given that there is hesitancy amongst some groups, you know, the natural [question] is, well, who can we convince? Who can we get to say, ‘Go take it’, and they automatically take it?” Reeves said to reporters Monday. “The reality is, it’s just not that simple. The reality is, we’ve got to all redouble our efforts at education.”

Reeves made the remarks during a press conference celebrating a major million-dose milestone across the state, telling reporters that some of the misinformation coming out about the vaccine needs to be addressed through educational efforts.

“The trials that took place for these, these vaccines, while they were expedited in time, they still got approved in the same way through the CDC, the FDA. They were peer reviewed by scientists from other companies,” Reeves said. “We’re not seeing any large scale, major side effects.”

The governor also proposed different ways to get more shots in arms, admitting the next one million shots will be even more difficult.

In an interview with Fox Business Network host Stuart Varney Wednesday, Reeves mentioned mass vaccination efforts underway within the Mississippi Department of Corrections and a separate event for all state employees.

“As demand declines, one of the things that we’re going to have to do in our state, and I think this is true across the nation, is we’re gonna have to make it easier and easier for individuals to get the inoculation. You may not go to your local doctor to get it,” Reeves said. “You may go because you’ve cut your arm or you break your arm, but we want those local physician offices and clinics to have the shot and ask, ‘Have you gotten your vaccination yet? And if not, can we give it to you?”

A recent New York Times analysis showed the impact of some of that decline, with Mississippi ranked 47th in the nation based on information from the Centers for Disease Control on doses used, with the Magnolia State utilizing 68 percent of its delivered doses thus far, compared with the nationwide average of 77 percent.

While health care experts expected this decline eventually, they also didn’t know how long it would take before they reached it.

The most recent sampling of attitudes regarding the COVID-19 vaccine came from a poll last week issued by Millsaps College/Chism Strategies, which indicated more than 60 percent of Mississippians would likely take the vaccine.

Around twenty percent said they didn’t want to do so.

It’s unclear how many Mississippians actually remain skeptical enough about the vaccine to decline taking it.

“We are dealing with a lot of mistrust, still, in our system, in a government system in the medical community. I think we’re also dealing with a lot of misinformation,” said Jackson internal medicine specialist Dr. Justin Turner. “There are people who still think that vaccines can cause a change in their DNA. They think that vaccines are able to have some type of tracking device in there, thinking that they’re not effective.”

Those claims have been debunked for months by scientists and doctors, including the state’s health officer.

Some have also repeated claims that the vaccine causes sterility, but health care professionals and Pfizer’s own CEO have said that is patently false.

“In my own practice, what I’m seeing more is people just want to come in and have their questions answered, there’s not as much deep seated belief in conspiracy, as just a little hesitancy,” said Dr. Jennifer Bryan, who chairs the Mississippi State Medical Association’s Board of Trustees.

That hesitancy, Bryan said, is understandable given these vaccines haven’t been approved by the FDA.

Still, the reward for taking it and remaining healthy greatly outweighs the risk, Bryan said.

“Getting the vaccine is a wonderfully reasonable risk, the risk is extremely low. You won’t find anybody that tells you that there is no risk of an adverse reaction or outcome. But the adverse reaction or outcome, or outcome of getting COVID is far worse, far, far, far, far worse than getting a protective vaccine,” Bryan said.

Turner agrees.

At his south Jackson clinic, he’s heard concerns from patients and colleagues about lack of access to vaccines, which could also contribute to the decline they’re starting to see and Mississippi’s ranking nationwide when it comes to shots administered.

“A doctor’s office called me today just not knowing, you know, where to go as she’s had trouble getting her employees, the ability to be able to get vaccinated. We have patients who are homebound. How can they get the vaccine?” Turner said. “We still have patients in rural communities that don’t have broadband access that, you know, still are trying to make phone calls to get through and can’t get through on [the web] site.”

Those who do have access, though, are encouraged to talk with their primary care provider before scheduling their appointment if they have any questions.

And be prepared for the doctor to ask a few, too.

“I’m asking all of our Mississippians, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen to you if you get the COVID vaccine?’ And I turn around and ask, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen to you if you get COVID-19?’ Side effects, which are temporary, versus death that’s permanent.”

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