What’s really behind vaccine hesitancy in Alabama?

With Alabama being last in vaccinations, what's really behind vaccine hesitancy in the state?
With Alabama being last in vaccinations, what's really behind vaccine hesitancy in the state?(WBRC)
Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 10:13 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Alabama is now the least vaccinated state according to data from the CDC. According to a leading health expert from UAB, it may be difficult to reach those who are still on the fence.

Odds are you probably know someone who is dead set against it or hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Niki Robertson lives in Hueytown. She’s just unsure about the shot.

“I don’t really want to get the vaccine. I just don’t think there’s enough out there about it,” Robertson said.

Robertson says some of the recent stories about the Johnson and Johnson vaccine causing blood clots in a small number of people have her concerned. Also this week, the FDA is attaching a warning to the J&J shot saying it could lead to an increased risk of a rare neurological condition. Even though, federal regulators say the chance of it happening to you is low, Robertson still has her doubts.

“I just don’t know enough about it. I’m scared of it and I really don’t know if there’s been enough study about it to really to get it,” Robertson said.

Robertson is not alone in her hesitation. This week, Alabama surpassed Mississippi as the least vaccinated state with just over 33% of Alabamians fully vaccinated. That’s puzzling to UAB infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Saag. He says over the past two to three months in the United States, nearly all the COVID-19 deaths have been in unvaccinated people.

“If I told someone you have a chance of dying in the next two months but if you get vaccinated that chance approaches zero. Why would they not take advantage of that? This vaccine is safe,” Dr. Saag said.

Saag believes misinformation and politics about the vaccine are some of the reasons why people aren’t getting a shot in the arm. Some people also told us they are waiting on full authorization from the FDA before they get vaccinated.

Saag says it’s going to be hard to convince skeptics to get a shot and he doesn’t know if we can get those on the fence vaccinated either but he’s not giving up hope.

Saag tells us the current vaccines on the market are about as effective as any vaccine we’ve had in terms of preventing death. With the more aggressive Delta variant potentially becoming the dominant strain soon, Saag and other leading health experts say more people will need to get fully vaccinated to cut down on the spread of the virus.

“I think it’s just going to take us continually beating the drum, getting information out there, being persistent and somewhat patient with people as they work through it. But that’s all we can do right now is keep getting the vaccine out there to folks,” Saag said.

Robertson’s parents got vaccinated because their doctor encouraged them to. Robertson says she’s probably not going to get the vaccine unless she’s made to get it. She tells us that’s just her opinion and she’s not against the vaccine for everyone else.

Because of low vaccination rates, Saag feels there could be a hot pocket of transmission if someone becomes infected and others around them are unvaccinated. He says this is not Epidemiology 101, its common sense.

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