NASHVILLE/TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) — State health officials have released the results of a survey on how Tennesseans feel about COVID-19 vaccines.
The Tennessee Department of Health says that of the more than 1,000 Tennesseans surveyed, 53.7 percent said they were willing but hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The report suggests that rural, conservative, white Tennesseans are less likely to be vaccinated and that’s consistent with data that’s coming out nationally as well,” said Dr. Randy Wykoff, Dean of the College of Public Health and Director for the Center for Rural Health at ETSU. “That uncertainty varies by race, by political affiliation and even though it doesn’t say so in the report, probably geographically as well.”
The survey also found that the main reasons for vaccine hesitancy are safety and unknown short and long-term health effects. The speed with which vaccines were tested and developed has fueled people’s concerns, the results suggest.
“There are folks who are taking this as reinforcement that they don’t believe in vaccines or this vaccine for Covid and on the other hand there are folks who are willing to be vaccinated but are just uncertain about it,” Wykoff said. “Right now, we have data on the first six months of people getting vaccinated so we can say at least to that point, they appear to be immune. Whether that will last over the course of a year or more likely, the virus will mutate in such a way we may end up getting to a point where we have to get an annual booster.”
The survey was conducted by a third party and included adult respondents from all 95 Tennessee counties.
“The results are consistent with national trends and show that Tennesseans want more information from trusted sources as they make their decision,” Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said in a release. “This market survey was an important step in identifying where we can be helpful in providing information about safety and effectiveness.”
The results resonate with what health experts in the Tri-Cities are seeing.
“We’ve gotten vaccine through a large portion of our most vulnerable and those with comorbidities. However, we’re seeing a change because of the vaccine, we’re seeing a change in the epidemiology. Ie: we’re seeing more disease in younger people,” said Dr. Stephen May, the medical director for the Sullivan County Regional Health Department. “The disease is driving where we need to get the vaccine. Our 16-year-olds to 40-year-olds is where we can do the most good right now in trying to control the diseases.”
Hesitancy and timing are the main concerns of those who spoke with News Channel 11.
“It was done way too quick. We’ve researched other things for years, no vaccines have been made. I don’t feel comfortable taking it…not anytime soon,” said Amber Wilder. “The virus itself has a pretty high survival rate, so I’m not too worried about it for me.”
Others with natural immunity aren’t planning on taking it right away either.
“I’ve had Covid and I have active antibodies and so I find it difficult to take an immunization that’s supposed to really stimulate my body to produce the same antibodies that my body produced,” said Jeff Oakes. “The side effects and the thing that people are really concerned about are legitimate concerns. If you haven’t had covid then maybe that’s something that you would consider…taking the vaccine.”
And some say young people just don’t have the time.
“We just feel like we’re too busy, we’ve got so much, we’ve got school going on, we’ve got college going on, you know got church going on if you live in this area like I do,” said Henry Hall. “As I understand, I’ve already built up the immunities to it so, I don’t really see the need to get a vaccination if I’m being honest…and if you want me to be super real with you…scared of needles.”
Dr. Wykoff says those between the age of 20 and 40 typically skip out on getting their shots in general.
“Typically the vaccines are given to kids and those 65 and older other than the annual flu vaccine. So, it’s not a group that thinks about the vaccine. It’s also a group at least in the first year of this pandemic, wasn’t particularly heavily impacted by the pandemic,” said Wykoff. “There’s vaccine hesitancy around flu vaccines and other vaccines as well. So, some of that, I’m afraid is misinformation on the part of the public some of it is understandable.”
Both Wykoff and May say herd immunity can be reached if more than 80% of the population natural immunity or receive the immunization.