‘They’re concerned about side effects’: researchers say vaccine-hesitant group declining but still apprehensive

The Kaiser Family Foundation says 31 percent of the public are vaccine hesitant, but University of Michigan professors/researchers say that group is dropping
Posted at 7:49 PM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 20:26:57-04

MICHIGAN — University of Michigan--Ann Arbor Prof. Abram Wagner got his first dose of the vaccine and said he’s excited about getting the second dose.

His colleague Prof. Trina Shanks shared the same enthusiasm.

“No negative reactions,” Shanks said with a smile. “I’m excited to get the second vaccine too because my sister’s birthday is in July, and we’re going to get together and actually do something because everyone in the family by July will be vaccinated, which is an awesome thing to think about.”

They’ve both been researching vaccine perspectives and intentions, from a wide range of people, and their findings from a January and February survey show that over 50 percent of Detroiters intend to get the vaccine.

“There’s people who literally said, 'I don’t want to take it' in December, but when the opportunity came, they did get the vaccine,” Shanks said.

However, some are still hesitant. They're not a part of the anti-vaccination movement but are in no rush to get it anytime soon, they said.

RELATED: Dr. Abha talks about the impacts of COVID vaccine hesitancy

“What we’re seeing right now is that there are a lot of people who in general like the idea of vaccines, but when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, there’s just something off about it, or they can’t quite bring themselves to get the vaccine,” said Wagner, who’s an assistant professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 31 percent of the public have a "wait and see" approach toward getting the vaccine. Wagner said he believes this is due to a number of factors, including convenience.

“The things that I’m hearing that I’m seeing in my research are things like people are concerned about the speed of development,” Wagner said during a joint Zoom interview with Shanks on Wednesday. “A year ago we barely knew about COVID-19. Now there’s a vaccine which is being given out. So people are concerned about that. They’re concerned about the side effects.”

Wagner said many believe that the vaccine was made too quickly and that it’s not safe for specific groups of people like pregnant women and communities of color.

“I think in particular in the African American community, historically with things like the Tuskegee experiment where Black men were literally experimented on and allowed to die and suffer horrific symptoms, when there was a penicillin that could’ve cured them, that seems to some people like a long time ago, a couple of generations ago, but it could’ve been people living today," Shanks said.

The Tuskegee experiment began in the 1940s and continued for over 30 years. Shanks said the impact of that is still felt today in the Black community.

“Sometimes it’s just the way people get treated day-to-day when they go into a hospital,” Shanks said. “If they feel disrespected, or if they’re poor and they have to wait longer periods of time, or if they have a real concern and they aren’t helped in a timely matter and they have some difficult, physical, health circumstance, those individual experiences over time can also make people hesitant.”

She added that language barriers and lack of transportation can lead to hesitation, including reports of people getting sick after getting the vaccine. This week, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released a report stating that 246 fully vaccinated people in the state contracted COVID again, and three have died.

READ MORE: Of nearly 3M Michiganders vaccinated, 246 contracted COVID-19 & 3 died

“These are very extremely rare cases. But, of course it’s easy to focus on that one or two cases of somebody whose face you see in the news and they had a severe reaction or they were hospitalized or they died,” Wagner said. “It’s very hard to think about the thousands and millions of other individuals who are faceless, who had a completely normal reaction and now who are protected against the disease.”

According to the CDC, 56 million Americans have been vaccinated, including over 3,000,000 in Michigan. The professors said building trust between the public and the medical and health fields will be key to moving forward. Nevertheless, their research finds that when one person gets vaccinated, it has a trickle-down effect among their families, friends and communities.

“I interact with a bunch of older African Americans from church, and so we hear, ‘Are you getting the vaccine?' 'Yes, I’m getting the vaccine.' 'Did anything happen to you?' 'No, my arm hurt a little bit but that was it.’ And then, ‘OK, if that happened with you, then I’ll do it,'” Shanks recalled. “So, now there’s 50-to- 60-year-old Black women who were hesitant, who were concerned, who had questions, who did it and nothing happened. Then their friends did it, and so that number is growing.”

READ MORE: How you can help friends & family overcome COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

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