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Q: How are coronavirus vaccinations progressing locally?

A: Despite the increase in both vaccine supply and residents eligible to receive the vaccine, the number of people getting vaccinated remains low. In total, 13% of eligible Hamilton County residents have been fully vaccinated. This trend may be due to a number of different factors, including lack of transportation to vaccine sites, concern of safety and efficacy, partisanship or vaccine hesitancy.

Vaccine hesitancy is a significant barrier to vaccination. In a recent study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, intent to get COVID-19 vaccine increased over time but was still less than half at the end of the observation period. Younger adults, women, non-Hispanic black persons, adults living in nonmetropolitan areas and adults with a lower educational attainment, with lower income and without health insurance were most likely to report lack of intent.

In the next few months, vaccines will be available to everyone in the United States who chooses to get one. Vaccination campaigns need to include efforts to understand why some groups are hesitant and how best to move them closer to vaccine intent.

Starting a dialogue with others with different vaccine beliefs is not always easy, but dismissing someone for their vaccine belief will only lead them to find someone else that validates their concerns. The power of discussion to change minds should not be underestimated.

Vaccine messaging should emphasize effectiveness of preventing illness and ability to return to normal life, rather than messages of allergic reactions and short-term side effects, advises the Kaiser Family Foundation. Using trusted messengers specific to groups with higher vaccine hesitancy will be important, whether it is a health care provider, pastor or a trusted friend.

In fact, someone who is considering vaccination is more likely to know someone else who has been vaccinated, while those that are hesitant are not. Someone who has been vaccinated, then, can change their friend's behavior. If you have been vaccinated, tell a friend (or two or three or four) and become the agent of change to help get more people vaccinated. The closer we can get everyone vaccinated, the sooner we will reach herd immunity.

Fernando Urrego, M.D., is the interim health officer at the Hamilton County Health Department and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.

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Contributed Photo / Dr. Fernando Urrego
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