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Aging for Amateurs: Vaccine hesitancy not just for the needle-phobic

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Roper vaccine drive thru13PRINT SECONDARY.JPG (copy)

Pharmacist Lisa Sloger prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the Roper St. Francis Healthcare vaccine drive-thru in a North Charleston Coliseum parking garage on March 2, 2021. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Up to this point, many people who have wanted a COVID-19 vaccine haven't been able to find an appointment. The demand for a shot has been greater than the supply. But it won’t be long before our supply of vaccines will be plenty to accommodate everyone who wants one.

Aging for Amateurs (copy) (copy)

Bill Simpson. File/Staff

And that's the problem.

Recent research suggests that a substantial part of the U.S. population doesn’t want the vaccine. Amazingly, almost half of persons on the front line of health care say they are hesitant to receive one of those life-saving shots. Other groups: women, minorities, conservatives, older adults also are hesitant.

Why? Some say that they are not confident the vaccine is safe, some say it won’t work to prevent the disease, some say they just don’t need it because they’ve already had the disease or they just don’t think they’ll get the virus.

None of those reasons to avoid the vaccine holds water.

The vaccines we have are very safe and very effective. Having already had the disease doesn’t always protect you from reinfection and you will very likely get the disease if you have a significant exposure.

What does hold water is the issue that has been addressed over and over again and is one of the most important to our society: Taking the vaccine very significantly reduces the likelihood that the person receiving the shot will transmit the virus to another person.

But there still is another important reason: The longer the virus is allowed to spread, the greater the opportunity for the virus to mutate. Most mutations are harmless, but the more mutations, the greater the likelihood that one or more of them will make the virus unresponsive to our current vaccines and the pandemic will continue its deadly progress.

We are in the early stages of dealing with these variants. You’ve heard the terminology — the British variant, B.1.1.7; the South African variant, B.1.351; the Brazilian variant, P.1 — and more are surely coming.

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Experts in epidemiology and public health tell us the virus will continue to spread and sicken people and produce more variants until we reach “herd immunity,” when 70-85 percent of the population is vaccinated — at this point, the virus won’t be able to find enough unvaccinated people to infect and its spread will stop.

What can we aging amateurs do to help stop the spread of and counter the misinformation that keeps vaccine hesitancy at a high level?

Talk to everyone you know, friends, family, colleagues, etc., about the vaccine. Tell them where you are with your COVID-19 protection. Tell them how you got scheduled for your shot and answer their questions about how the process went, what side effects you had and how long they lasted.

Remind them that the vaccines are extremely safe. Serious allergic reactions to the vaccines are very rare (less than one per million shots). No deaths have occurred in over 100 million vaccinations.

Remind them that the vaccines don’t contain the COVID-19 virus itself, so they can’t cause a coronavirus infection and that vaccines don’t change your DNA.

Tell them how good it felt to get that first shot in your arm, to be on the way to being protected from the virus. Tell them how it felt even better to have the second vaccine (if you had the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine). And tell them what it was like two weeks after your second shot, to know that you were practically immune to COVID-19. No one has had a fatal case of COVID-19 after full vaccination.

Remind your friends and family how important it is to continue to wear masks when they are out in public, maintain 6 feet of physical distance whenever possible and avoid crowds.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fully vaccinated people can gather indoors without wearing masks or physically distancing when spending time with 1) other people who are fully vaccinated or 2) unvaccinated people from one other household, unless any of those people or anyone they live with is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. That is something unvaccinated people can look forward to!

These are just a few suggestions, I’m sure you can think of other things to do and other things to share. Let me know, this could well be a matter of life or death.

Bert Keller and Bill Simpson write the occasional column “Aging for Amateurs.” Simpson, a retired physician, wrote this installment. Comments, questions and suggestions are welcome at agingforamateurs@gmail.com.

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