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Herd Immunity And Addressing COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy In South Florida

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As the number of people getting their COVID-19 vaccine has slowed down, a "Sundial" panel discusses where the hesitancy is coming from and a new campaign to get people vaccinated.

Half of all adults in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida is trailing close behind the national numbers, with 40 percent of the population having received at least one dose.

Everyone 16 or older is eligible to receive the vaccine in every state. But demand and interest in the vaccine is wavering, and that could put herd immunity at risk. WLRN's"Sundial" assembled a panel of experts and people knowledgeable on vaccine rollout to discuss the hesitancy.

WLRN’s Luis Hernandez spoke with Dr. Cheryl Holder, an associate professor at Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, which is partnering with the James Wilson Bridges Medical Society to ensure greater vaccine equity in Black communities; Dr. Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist with the University of South Florida; Loreen Chant, Health Foundation of South Florida CEO, and WLRN’s health care reporter Verónica Zaragovia.

The Decline In Demand And Interest In The Vaccine

While the vaccine rollout in the U.S. has produced promising numbers thus far, the next challenge will be vaccinating the rest of the population in order to reach herd immunity.

“What I hear is people still concerned with the speed at which the vaccines became available,” said Zaragovia, adding that researchers did not take any shortcuts with rolling out these vaccines.

"The FDA issued its emergency use authorization based on trials that are required of any vaccine ... that's what they're worried about, that they fear it might have an impact on their health,” she said.

Citing a slow down in the demand for inoculations, Broward Health stopped providing first dose vaccinations last week and Jackson Health System will do the same later this month.

“Access has improved tremendously. Now, for some populations, they certainly don't really have access to a car or somebody that takes them there. And they have to work around the schedule. But I'm letting folks know that even with that, there are many sites that you can take and go later in the evening after work. It's not a long wait,” said Holder. “I think that we have to have a delivery system that addresses more of this concern, this fear, and have more people trusted around them so that they will decide to get the vaccine.”

What We Can Learn From India

India is battling a surge of COVID-19 cases, threatening the collapse of the country’s health system.

Tuesday, for the sixth day in a row, the country reported more than 300,000 new cases — breaking global records. This comes as other countries, including the U.S. promise that they will make more medical aid available to fight the virus in the country.

“Hardly 10% of the Indian population has gotten even one dose of the vaccine. So a huge proportion of the population are susceptible. So when you release the lockdown's and the social [distancing] measures and you have this huge amount of susceptible people, then infections will just rise, as we are seeing right now in India,” said Michael. “I think it is a lesson for the rest of the world.”

He added that regardless of herd immunity and vaccinations, masks prevent the spread of new coronavirus variants.

Approaching Those Who Are Hesitant

Holder has been seeing a variety of patients at her clinic at Jackson Health. She’s found the reasons people are hesitant to get vaccinated vary greatly from person to person.

“I just had a patient today who has multiple medical problems and we had to go through the risk and the benefit. Why do we talk about getting the vaccine? To reduce your risk,” she said.

Holder responded to a number of callers throughout the program that presented vaccine hesitancy, one of the more difficult stories was from a caller named Giselle in Miami Shores.

“I lost both of my parents within three days to COVID. And I got to see the impact of the disease. I don’t think people understand how dramatic it is. I had to drop my mother off at the hospital and that was the last time I saw her alive. I’m not a vaccination person but I just got my second shot on Monday. I did it for my parents who couldn’t have gotten the vaccine and I did it for society,” Giselle shared with the panelists.

Holder responded by saying she’s seen the pain that her patients, caregivers and their families have gone through in the isolation of COVID-19. When individuals like Giselle are personally touched by the pain of the disease, getting vaccinated is much easier to do.

Multi-Pronged Strategy To Vaccination

Miami-Dade and Broward counties have launched a collaborative campaign called "I Did It! South FL," focused on getting Floridians vaccinated that haven’t gotten their shots.

The campaign is coordinating with nonprofit organizations across the region to do on-the-ground, word-of-mouth messaging meant to combat vaccine hesitancy. The Health Foundation of South Florida is leading the campaign.

“Our campaign is hyper targeted, we have trusted messengers like Dr. Cheryl Holder and many grassroots organizations that are talking to people on the ground," Chant said. "It’s also really broad as well — public service announcements, television, radio, billboards in our most vulnerable communities and a social media campaign called #IDidIt. We will be pulling personal photos of individuals that got vaccinated and want to celebrate.”

Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.