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FSU Medicine panel says overcoming vaccine hesitancy is about ‘meeting people where they are’

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 6:32 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - COVID-19 vaccines have been widely available in the U.S. for several months now, yet only 50% of Americans are fully vaccinated.

Wednesday, the Florida State University College of Medicine brought together a panel of experts to share strategies on how to reach this half of the population. The consensus was in order to reach people, you have to meet them where they are and find out what is important to them. Everyone has their own reason for getting the vaccine.

Sarah Peebles said getting the shot was a no-brainer.

“I really didn’t want to get COVID,” she said. “I love food. I love tasting food and smelling food, and the idea that I could go months, years, maybe forever, without being able to taste my food, kind of really scared me,” Peebles said.

Others want to visit loved ones.

“We wanted to go see my grandmother, who’s in her 90s, and we didn’t want to take any changes getting her sick,” Beverly McCrea said.

Still, others just want to stop the spread.

“I really wanted to get vaccinated for the safety of all the people who can’t get vaccinated because they’re too young, like all my children,” said Cassie McGlynn. “And all of the people with compromised immune systems. Maybe the virus wouldn’t kill me, but I wanted to stop the spread as best I can.”

There are also many things stopping people from getting the shot. For some, it’s fear of side effects. One panelist, Dr. Meardith Pooler-Burgess, said this fear can be mitigated by reassurance from trusted friends or family members.

“Some people would call and talk to people and say, ‘Okay well how did the vaccine make you feel?’ And those things instill confidence in them to go get the vaccine and not be scared,” explained Pooler-Burgess.

Panelists emphasized that trying to scare or shame people into getting the vaccine is not an effective strategy and said the best approach is through education. Of course, widespread misinformation about the vaccine has made this challenging.

“My brother hasn’t been vaccinated because he spends probably too much time on the internet,” McGlynn said. McGlynn said her brother doesn’t trust the vaccine, and she hasn’t been able to convince him to see things her way.

“Any conversation kind of leads down this rabbit hole of conspiracy theories,” McGlynne said. “So we don’t talk about it anymore.”

Still, Burgess says she’s watched people who were initially hesitant change their minds after taking a cue from their social circles.

“It wasn’t until people around them were getting the vaccine and talking about it,” she said. “It wasn’t until it was a repetitive conversation in their norm, in their inner circle, that influenced them to go get vaccinated.”

The FDA plans to give full approval to the Pfizer vaccine by early next month. Panelists hope this will convince some who are still on the fence to get the shot.

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