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Local health officials seeing COVID vaccine hesitancy as supply increases, vaccine myths circulate

Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 7:18 PM EDT
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HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - As the COVID-19 vaccine is becoming more readily available in our region, health officials say demand is beginning to drop.

“It was nonstop to begin with and now we have open appointments about everyday at the health department, at Primary Care at Hazard ARH, so it’s very different from where we started,” said Scott Lockard, Public Health Director at the Kentucky River District Health Department.

Lockard says the health department is pretty much done with their waiting list, even though anyone 18 or older can receive a vaccine in most of the region.

“The supply of vaccine has finally caught up and maybe even surpassed demand,” said Lockard.

Lockard is worried about this hesitancy and people not believing the vaccine is safe. He says the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine is proven to be 90% effective, and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is 70% effective.

“All three vaccines are 100% effective in preventing hospitalizations from severe illness and death,” said Lockard.

Dr. Fares Khater, Chief of Infectious Disease at ARH and MCHC, say his patients have many concerns about the vaccine, including if it includes the live virus and if it changes your DNA. He says both of these concerns are false.

“It just instructs your immune system to produce a protein in a natural environment and protects you with immunity,” said Khater. “Anybody can say anything they want but if it’s not backed by science and evidence it’s not true.”

Women who are pregnant, or planning for a family worry if it will effect their fertility, or harm their baby. Dr. Khater says studies show no evidence it affects fertility, and pregnant women can pass protective antibodies from the shot to their babies.

“They did test the blood in the placenta and the umbilical cord after the baby was born and showed protective antibodies. That is a win-win situation,” said Dr. Khater.

Many people do not want to take the second dose of the vaccine as they hear it makes you sick. Lockard says it is only your body going into overdrive building up antibodies against the virus.

“These symptoms are very mild. They typically pass within one to two days and they are much much milder than an actual case of COVID-19,” he said.

People are also concerned the vaccine is not FDA approved, as it only has Emergency Use Authorization.

“In the setting of a pandemic it is an emergency. People are dying. You have to fast track your data. It doesn’t mean it’s not safe. It doesn’t mean it’s not effective,” said Dr. Khater. “The FDA has put a bench mark on these studies. Even under the EA they have to be at least 50% effective and they were. All of them are above 50 we’ve seen 95% and the FDA has put another bench mark they have to be safe. If they’re not safe they’re not going to be approved under the EA.”

Both Dr. Khater and Lockard also say it is important to receive the vaccine even if you’ve contracted COVID-19 previously.

“The antibodies that develop in your body as a result of the vaccine are much more effective at preventing you from getting COVID again than even having COVID and the way you build antibodies from having the virus itself,” said Lockard.

Studies are still ongoing for how long the vaccine is effective. Those in the Pfizer and Moderna trials, are still being monitored to see how long their immunity lasts.

“We know at least there’s some data there that it’s a year at least of protection and maybe more but every month that goes by we know more,” said Dr. Khater.

Dr. Khater and Lockard saying education is key when it comes to vaccinations. They encourage anyone questioning its safety, to contact your local doctor’s office or health department. Dr. Khater says it’s important to educate yourself on the science behind it.

“Rather than checking social media and rather than checking the last person who has a blog somewhere on the internet because we know when they get sick, they’re not going to go to the blogs and to the social media, they are going to come back to their doctor to get treated. So, get the information from the people who know the best and follow the science,” he said.

Lockard says with only 30% of Kentucky’s population vaccinated, mask wearing is still key, until the state can reach 80% for herd immunity.

“If we want to keep our economy open, if we want to be able to vacation, if we want to be able to see our loved ones, if we want to be able to hug our grandparents let’s get vaccinated let’s protect ourselves let’s protect those we care about.”

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