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Have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine? So do lots of people. Here's what health officials say

Marina Affo
Delaware News Journal

For a long time, Edward Harrison was unsure about whether he wanted to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Wilmington resident believed it was a little too rushed, and he was skeptical of anything connected to President Donald Trump. 

"His name being associated with anything makes me a little nervous," he said. "I had to get past that."

Despite these fears, he is now leaning toward taking the vaccine – the recommendation of health officials nationwide in hopes of quelling COVID-19. 

"As Black people, we have to understand that we are dying at the highest rate from COVID," he said. "It would be terrible to keep dying because of our fear of history." 

A barber along Wilmington's Route 9 corridor, he has many different people come to his shop and the topic of COVID-19 – and the vaccine – is on everyone's minds these days. 

LPN Jennifer Hroncich, left administers the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Silver Lake Center nurse Kolubah Goniah Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.

No matter their race, many throughout the state have concerns. The Delaware Division of Public Health is well aware of many of these hesitations and wants the public to bring up any others on their minds. 

"We want to hear about hesitancy so that we can address it. We don't want it to lurk in the shadows," said Dr. Rick Pescatore, the state Division of Public Health's chief physician. "We are committed to transparency, education and openness, and we are committed to addressing all concerns because we believe and trust, not only in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, but in the importance of the vaccine and the importance of getting shots in arms for as many Delawareans as possible." 

Claim: The vaccine was produced too quickly to be safe

Christin Chambers is worried the vaccine was created in too short of a time and is nervous about potential side effects. 

"The flu shot, measles, mumps, rubella? I trust all that because it's been tested for so long," she said. "But this is so new that you just never know."

A mom of three, Chambers is worried about the effect the vaccine may have on young people. She's felt the impacts of COVID-19 on her family economically, and she doesn't want to take the chance on a vaccine unless necessary.

As of right now, there are two separate vaccines available, Pescatore said. Pfizer is authorized for people 16 and older, and Moderna is authorized for people 18 and older. There is no evidence that there are significant side effects to the vaccine. 

Pescatore pointed to the "hundreds of thousands of doses" that have been administered thus far, reflecting that "the incidence of side effects is reassuringly low and the incidence of severe side effects is vanishingly small." 

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While many believe the vaccine is new or created within a year, research for the coronavirus vaccine has been in the works for over a decade, Pescatore said. 

"Ever since SARS-1 made its eruption onto the world stage, the development of mRNA vaccines was a large step forward 10 years ago and was long thought of as the next logical step in response to pandemic conditions," he said. 

Clinical educator Brittany Oakley, right, gives Dr. Kelly Abbrescia, medical director for emergency services, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Bayhealth's Kent County Campus COVID-19 vaccination clinic Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Dover. The hospital began giving vaccinations to front-line employees early Tuesday morning.

SARS is severe acute respiratory syndrome and is also caused by the coronavirus – COVID-19 is just another type of coronavirus. 

"Science is thorough, rigorous and has been evaluated by a number of independent monitoring boards," Pescatore said. 

Claim: Herd immunity will protect me so I don't need the vaccine 

Jessica Kahn and both of her sons have all had COVID-19 – some of them twice.

Her youngest son had a lot of body aches and a fever but was feeling better after three days. She was asymptomatic. And her eldest son, the most recent person to be infected with the virus, took about five days to get over the aches and fever. 

The mom of two got a little nervous when her oldest son's fever reached 104 degrees but wasn't too worried, as she was confident his natural immune system would protect him. 

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The fact that her family has had COVID-19 – and beat it or were asymptomatic – is the main reason Kahn does not want to get the vaccine.

Though she's not against vaccinations, she said bodies need to be able to adapt to their surroundings more naturally. Her kids do not get the flu shot, and their required vaccinations were spread out over the years when they were young. 

Senior Cpl. Katie Watts, left, receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Lt. David Aber Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020.

"I worry about it compromising our immune system," she said.

She said she understands herd immunity – when a majority of a population is immune from an infection disease, thus indirectly immunizing those who are not immune – and doesn't see why her family not receiving the vaccination wouldn't allow herd immunity to protect them. 

But Pescatore pointed to multiple groups that won't be able to receive the vaccine, like children, people with specific allergies and those with certain ailments, as reason for those who can to get the shot.

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"While it's true that a Rubicon of vaccinated will induce herd immunity and protect those who are not vaccinated, we need everybody who is able to get the vaccine to do so," he said.

Claim: The vaccine contains a microchip 

A common fear online is that the vaccine may have a microchip that the government will use to track people. 

"There's no way, no truth to it," Pescatore said, "but it speaks more toward a sort of latent communication gap between the public and patients in public health and health care, and it's important and incumbent upon us to narrow that gap."

While it is not a realistic concern, the department appreciates the skepticism and concern and will continue to answer any questions as they come along, he said. 

ChristianaCare respiratory therapist Kathleen Bonis receives the COVID-19 vaccine from Christiana Hospital colleague Tabe Mase as the health network starts vaccinating its approximately 13,500 employees Friday, Dec. 18, 2020.

Edward Harrison said that many who come through his barbershop are nervous because of past experiments performed on Black people – like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study of the 1930s through 1970s in Tuskegee, Alabama, in which Black men were not provided proper treatment to cure them of the disease, even when it became available. 

"History should cause us to be diligent, but we must not let history cause us to lose our rationale," he said. 

The vaccine is still in the early stages of deployment, so much of the general public does not have access to it quite yet. But Pescatore said the Division of Public Health is ready to run campaigns to get people, including racial and ethnic minorities, to trust health care within the state and to trust the safety of the vaccine. 

For more information on the vaccine, including who is currently eligible and how many have already taken it, go to myhealthycommunity.dhss.delaware.gov

Contact Marina Affo at 302-353-0375 or maffo@delawareonline.com. Follow her on Twitter at @marina_affo