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Some Americans Want To Choose Which Vaccine They Get

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Get the first vaccine you're offered: that's the public health message. Each COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective at preventing severe disease, but some Americans want to choose the vaccine they get.

Jen Vazquez did not want to take any chances with COVID-19. She has a genetic blood clotting disorder and had stayed away from grocery stores and strangers for more than a year.

So when the vaccine showed up, “Immediately, I started looking into the companies that were making the vaccines,” she said.

She didn't like that Moderna has no FDA-approved products on the market, and clinical trials found Johnson & Johnson is less effective overall at preventing infection compared to the two others.

“The death rate for it is all the same across the board,” she said. “You're not going to die supposedly, but to not get it in the first place seemed like the better chance of not dying.”

She settled on Pfizer. She liked the company's long track record. So she scouted different vaccine clinics for several weeks, using a Facebook group called NOLA Vaccine Hunters. She spotted one that consistently carried Pfizer and drove three hours to get it.

Meanwhile, epidemiologist Dodie Arnold made a different choice.

“Personally, I prefer Moderna,” Arnold said.

Arnold knows full well that all three vaccines are great but says, for her, Moderna had an advantage. Unlike Pfizer, it doesn't need to be reconstituted.

“Think about it like orange juice,” Arnold explained. “Pfizer is from concentrate. The people administering it have to dilute it and mix it to get it to the proper concentrations of dosage.”

Moderna arrives premixed, ready to go into arms. Arnold said that means fewer chances for slipups.

“And I'm not saying anything ill about Pfizer, but, you know, people make mistakes,” she said.

Then there's Melody and Antoine Lawson. Antoine, a veteran, said that at first they were reticent about getting any vaccine.

“Well, you hear all of the tall tales of, you know, being tagged so the government could track you. I can honestly say that I bought into a lot of the rhetoric,” he said.

But after lots of reflection, especially around the idea of putting their family at risk, the Lawsons decided to get vaccinated. And Johnson & Johnson was what they wanted.

“Mainly because it was just a one-shot-and-you're-done kind of thing,” Melody said. “We're both skittish about needles.”

About three in 10 America adults have a strong preference for which vaccine they want, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In some cases, the reasons are obvious. For example, Pfizer is the only one currently approved for 16- and 17-year-olds. But then there's convenience, efficacy, what technology was used. The list goes on.

“It's certainly natural for us as humans to want options,” said Dr. Doug Opel at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Open said choice is OK, but it should not come before the public health imperative to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible. So it has made sense to tell Americans over and over again to take the first vaccine you can get.

“That messaging has been really effective in helping the public just be OK with going to vaccination sites and accepting what they're offering,” Opel said.

For now, choice is mostly happening when the appointment is made. People can see online which vaccine they're signing up for. But L.J. Tan with the Immunization Action Coalition said that may change as supply catches up with demand.

“Because now we're going to get the people who are not so desperate for vaccination,” Tan said. “The people are coming in are going to be saying, hey; I'm really interested in vaccination, but I don't want to come back twice.”

National polling shows that people who have a preference are also more likely to be undecided about getting vaccinated at all, so choice could be an incentive to get them to sign up. But outside the U.S., choice is a luxury most of the world can't afford.

Will Stone