Social media today is infected with false and outlandish information about COVID-19 vaccines. Vectors of (sometimes malicious) misinformation have put out such notions that the mRNA vaccines — which both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are — will alter human DNA. That they cause infertility, contain aborted fetal tissue and folks who choose not to be vaccinated will lose their food stamps. Even nuttier: That photos of people getting injections aren’t real; those syringes have “disappearing needles.” And that AstraZeneca’s vaccine (not available yet in the U.S. but being used in the U.K.) will turn people into monkeys.
Such misinformation is a great concern among health care professionals at the Arkansas Department of Health and elsewhere. They say we need at least 70 percent of the population, and maybe more, to be vaccinated to stop the spread of the disease. That residents of Arkansas are suspicious of vaccines is seen in the state’s rate of influenza shots: Only about 60 percent of the population chooses to be inoculated against flu.
A common myth is that the COVID-19 vaccine carries a microchip that allows surveillance (by whom is not clear) of all who get it. That would require a soluble microchip embedded in the molecular structure of the vaccine, and, as Todd Hightower of Van Buren, owner of 10 assisted living facilities in Arkansas, said, that would take some “amazing technology.”
Hightower estimated that half the staff in his facilities are reluctant to take the vaccine, supplied by Moderna, thanks to what they’ve heard on social media. So when a Crossett pharmacy received its vaccine last week and was ready to begin vaccinations at Pillars of the Community assisted living facility there, Hightower and his medical school-bound daughter, hoping to to illustrate their faith in its safety, drove to the facility to be vaccinated on site. People should trust the vaccine: “This is a singular point in time,” Hightower said. “The entire brain power of the world came together to focus on a cure.”
“There’s a lot of concern,” Hightower said. “A lot of people feel like it was rushed. … Some said they wanted to wait until the second round and see how it worked.”
Unlike the staff, residents were happy to get the shot, Hightower said; he said “99.5 percent” of the residents at Pillars were inoculated. “They’re tired of quarantines and isolation.”
It fell to Lori Cooper, chief operating officer of Healthmark Services, Hightower’s company, to make sure all their Arkansas facilities had contracts in place for getting the vaccine and were “lined up and ready to go. We’re calling it our COVID-Buster campaign,” she said. Healthmark employees who get their vaccine are rewarded with a T-shirt depicting the company’s COVID-19 hero mascot getting a shot.
A majority of the staff at Pillars of the Community were skeptical about the vaccine’s safety, Cooper said. But, she said, as they see more and more people get the vaccine, their fears are assuaged.
Ed Holman, president of Retirement Services of Arkansas, also traveled to one of his facilities to encourage staff and residents to be inoculated. When he heard of some hesitancy, he said, he told staff at the Indian Rock Village nursing home in Fairfield Bay, “I’ll be the first to get one if that will make you feel any better,” and he was, on Dec. 29.
To encourage his employees, Holman has also promised to give a $50 gift certificate to buy groceries to all who complete the two-shot regimen. He said other assisted living and nursing home owners he’d talked to “like the idea of little bribes like that.”
He also said his properties have not experienced problems going through the consent process for resident inoculations, which Governor Hutchinson has said was slowing vaccinations in long-term care facilities. He qualified that by noting that his nursing home in Fairfield Bay had only 90 residents. “I’m sure it’s different in a large nursing home,” he said.
The fact that health care workers are resistant to being vaccinated for COVID-19 was noted with concern by University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson at Tuesday’s COVID-19 update at the state Capitol.
Patterson said 30 percent of UAMS employees had so far declined, though 4,000 employees have been inoculated so far. CORRECTION: I misheard. What Patterson said was that in response to a survey in which 4,000 participated, 30 percent, people “working in a health care environment with gold standard information about the safety of the vaccine … are reluctant to get vaccine” because of safety concerns. Patterson said it is “imperative on us to get the message out, not just to the health care community, but to the entire community of the state of Arkansas that these are safe vaccines and that you can’t rely on information coming from untrustworthy sources.”
However, as Hutchinson confirmed at the press conference, the reason the state was able this week to add first responders to the top vaccine priority category was because “in some situations you are not having 100 percent acceptance, in fact, it’s probably closer to 70 percent, depending on the environment and the place,” there was “additional capacity” to vaccinate responders, such as firefighters and police officers.
The Arkansas Department of Health has come up against the same hesitancy. After today’s press conference, Dr. Jose Romero, the state secretary of health and director of the health department, said there are 900 ADH employees eligible to receive vaccine, but only 550 have been vaccinated to date. “Do I expect 100 percent? I would like to see it,” he said, but he is doubtful.
The health department is tracking vaccine hesitancy, and Romero said there are places with resistance rates higher than UAMS’ 30 percent, and some lower. He said he could not characterize where hesitancy was highest.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases and regarded as the nation’s most trusted expert on the pandemic, has said his “guesstimate” is that 70 to 85 percent of the U.S. population should be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
UAMS’ Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health Assistant Dean Ben Amick has described the acceptance of a COVID-19 vaccine in Arkansas as “tepid,” based on a poll conducted by the college in October. That, however, was months before Arkansas’s current infection rate, which Romero described as a “surge on top of surge” of disease. The number of people in Arkansas with active infection reached a record 24,408 Tuesday.
30 percent said they might refuse
survey tgat we sent out to employees too get their view son teh vaccine
4,000 took survey, and of those 70 percent said they would take the v ac cine and 30 percent said htey had reluctance.
surveyed our employees