Vaccine hesitancy and how it could affect the Texas vaccine rollout

Texas Coronavirus Vaccine

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the state prepares to expand coronavirus vaccine eligibility, some Texans have said they are not likely to get the shot, prompting concern among experts about halting transmission of the virus or reaching “herd immunity.”

According to research led by Texas A&M University experts, more than 30% of people in the country do not intend to get vaccinated.

“Depending on its efficacy, modeling studies indicate we could need up to 70% of the American population vaccinated against COVID-19 to effectively interrupt virus transmission. Critically, the decision to fast track a COVID-19 vaccine has raised concern among the public that vaccine development is being rushed,” the study reads. “If that proportion of the public opts out of vaccinating, then vaccination rates may be inadequate to produce herd immunity to the virus.”

Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development, shares these researchers’ concerns.

“I mean, things are complicated enough — creating the new mega sites, making sure the supply chain management works, making sure there’s a supply of vaccines, communicating the importance of vaccines… the last thing we need is an aggressive anti-vaccine movement to try to falsely discredit vaccines and providing misinformation,” Hotez said.

He told KXAN he’s concerned about a spike in the spring as variants of the virus continue to mutate.

“Comparing this to the eye of a hurricane: you know you’re in the eye. You think everything looks good, and then the next big wave is about to hit,” he said. “The more transmissible the virus is the higher percentage of people you have to vaccinate to halt transmission.”

Hotez estimated even closer to 80% of the population would need to be vaccinated to interrupt transmission.

Impact on the Texas rollout

Earlier this month, Texas vaccine experts made the decision to open up eligibility from Phase 1B, people 65 and older and people with underlying health conditions, to people in Phase 1C, 50 and older. At the time, officials with the Texas Department of State Health Services cited a portion of the 1B group was expected to be vaccine hesitant.

In a news conference at the time, they estimated nearly a third of that group to opt out of the vaccination process, justifying the need to expand eligibility.

DSHS officials told KXAN the latest decision to expand to all adults has less to do with vaccine hesitancy and uptake and more to do with flexibility for certain counties and areas who were already nearing the end of their waiting lists.

“We were hearing from providers in some parts of the state that they were getting to the end of their waiting lists and may not have large numbers of people in the 1A, 1B and 1C groups left to vaccinate,” a spokesperson for the agency said.

He went on, “other providers can continue to prioritize people in one of the priority groups.”

In fact, the spokesperson said DSHS was seeing vaccine hesitancy declining, as more people across the state received their shots. Still, they cited data from the Journal of the American Medical Association, tracking national trends on people’s likelihood to get the vaccine from April 2020 to December 2020.

This research letter revealed women were less likely to get the vaccine than men. It also noted adults ages 65 years and older were more likely to get vaccinated than those 18 to 49 years old — revealing more hesitancy in younger age groups.

“When there’s a possibility of something happening to your little one that’s not even born yet, the risk just becomes so much higher,” said Dr. Aneesha Hossain, discussing her hesitancy about the vaccine while she was pregnant last year.

After reading the FDA manuscripts submitted for approval by each drug company however, Hossain said her feelings toward the vaccine changed.

“I will be protected, and there is so much immunity that I could pass on to my baby,” she explained.

She said she still understands the hesitation, but now, she advocates for new mothers and pregnant women to get the shot, if they can.

What ultimately made her decision, along with lots of reading and research? This question: “What if I got COVID? What would happen to me? What would happen to my baby? Versus — what if I got the vaccine?”

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