Vaccine Hesitancy Complicates End to COVID-19 Pandemic

July 2, 2021 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON — Warnings came from Congress and public health officials Thursday that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is potentially a greater hazard than originally believed.

Complicating the risk is what they call “vaccine hesitancy” that could subject millions of Americans to deadly disease.

“Recent surveys show that public confidence in the vaccines has increased throughout the year but up to 20% of Americans continue to say they will refuse a vaccine if offered and others remain unsure,” says a statement this week from the House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis.

So far, more than 179 million Americans have been vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the pace of vaccinations is slowing, prompting Congress to consider ways to convince more people to get the shots that could save their lives.

Vaccine hesitancy refers to a delay in accepting vaccinations or a refusal to get them, regardless of whether they are available.

Despite a dramatic drop in infections and a reopening of the economy, “The American public is still at risk,” said Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

The subcommittee held a hearing Thursday to consider what he called “innovative ways to increase vaccine uptake.”

The Delta variant of COVID-19, which originated in India but now is found in all 50 U.S. states, is the deadliest and most virulent form of the virus to emerge since the pandemic started in late 2019. 

Even deadlier variants could spring up if the pandemic does not end soon, Clyburn said.

“It is critical to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he said.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., agreed U.S. progress in ending the pandemic is impressive but also seemed frustrated by the holdouts who have not been vaccinated.

“We are approaching that elusive goal now of effective herd immunity,” Scalise said.

He recommended better outreach to convince more Americans that vaccines are their best hope for avoiding the deadly illness.

Medical experts who testified to the subcommittee said convenience, incentives and public information should guide additional vaccination campaigns.

Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said, “We get close to these benchmarks that we set for ourselves, then we get complacent and we don’t finish the job.”

He recommended gathering data to identify low vaccination communities, figure out why their rates are low then using local residents to design solutions.

Often, he said, people fail to get vaccinated because they do not believe their questions have been answered adequately to overcome their fears.

“One of the challenges we have is that words matter,” Benjamin said.

Katy Milkman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, suggested the kinds of incentives commonly used by businesses. They include lotteries, free concert tickets, celebrity appearances at vaccination events and sending reminders to unvaccinated persons.

“I’ve been advocating for radical convenience,” Milkman said.

After Ohio announced a lottery for vaccinated residents, the vaccination rate among young people shot up 28%, she said.

The witnesses included Joshua Garza, a COVID-19 survivor who said he would like other people to learn from his mistake. He resisted getting vaccinated until it was too late.

He spent four months in a hospital after contracting COVID-19, received a double lung transplant and at one point gave up hope for survival.

“I reached out to my family, explained the situation and said my final goodbyes,” Garza said.

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