Breanna Hardy">

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published on April 9, 2021 - 2:39 PM
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The demand for vaccines has been strong since doses became available. Now the gates are opening for all adults to receive the vaccine. But with broader eligibility, campaigns are ramping up to combat hesitancy.

While some of the public is hesitant to receive a dose, county officials say the vaccine stands up to the test.

“There is that skepticism and people do have hard questions about the science. But really the science stands up to the scrutiny. These are good vaccines. These are very effective,” said Dr. Rais Vohra, interim health officer for Fresno County.

A recent Pew Research survey showed that 69% of the public intends to receive a vaccine. Of those who don’t, the main reasons cited were concern of side effects and that the vaccines were developed and tested too quickly. A close third reason cited was “want to know more about how well they work.”

The Business Journal’s own online poll posted this week found that 39% of voters do not intend to get a vaccination, while 38% said they have been fully vaccinated.

Some skeptics are hesitant because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not officially approved the vaccines — only for emergency use.

The American Nurses Foundation took a survey of 12,939 nurses across the U.S. about their attitude toward the vaccine. The October 2020 survey showed that 48% were somewhat confident in the efficacy and safety of vaccines and 15% were very confident. The remaining 37% were not confident. 

Six months later after there are three vaccines given the emergency green light by the FDA. The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines all prevent severe illness and hospitalization. A person begins producing antibodies two weeks after being fully vaccinated. 

In a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines had a 90% efficacy in real world conditions among essential workers and health care professionals. The CDC said the study surveilled 3,950 participants in six states over a 13-week period from Dec. 14, 2020 to March 13, 2021. 

The two vaccines are mRNA vaccines, which generate stronger immune responses. The Johnson & Johnson is not an mRNA vaccine. 

A newly published study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reported that vaccines produce immunity in pregnant and nursing mothers for both the mother and the baby. 

There are challenges with the vaccine though as both the virus and the vaccines are new. 

As of March 23, there had been no new skilled nursing facility Covid-19 cases for more than two weeks. 

But since the report, there have been isolated cases detected at different assisted living facilities that involved staff members. Skilled nursing facilities have recently reported that a resident had tested positive. The Fresno County Department of Public Health is awaiting results for variant testing because skilled nursing facilities have been vaccinated.

Even so, cases in skilled nursing facilities have significantly declined since vaccinating. Vohra attributes the decrease to good hygiene and the vaccines. Skilled nursing facilities were some of the first entities given the green light for vaccination. 

But officials still fight misinformation on social media, and campaign for the public to receive vaccines. Officials are racing to vaccinate the public as new variants of concern circulate.

“I would be naive to say that there is not misinformation and other agendas operating which are trying to undermine the good science that’s out there,” Vohra said, “Trust the good science and I think that it will speak for itself when our top scientists and doctors say that they trust the products that are out there.” 

Social media is an incubator for misinformation, and Vohra warns that people should watch the source of the information they obtain. 

“If you’re looking at Dr. Facebook or Dr. Google to provide you with the best information, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. Really just go to the experts and look at the science the way that it’s supposed to be looked at,” Vohra said.

Dave Pomaville, director of public health for Fresno County, said that he will likely see a shift from compressed shortage of vaccine due to high demand to meeting the rest of the public and increasing trust in the vaccine. 

“It’s going to be incumbent on public health to change the messaging,” Pomaville said. 

Pomaville said that changing messaging will require Fresno County to be open, upfront and creative as it tries to educate the public on vaccine safety.

The county will use community leaders, school and faith-based partners and the health care system as a vehicle for sound messaging. 

“Our team has already been thinking about that. About how we shift the narrative to ‘The vaccine is available and we really want to encourage you on behalf of the community coming to get it,’” Pomaville said. “You’re going to see a lot more messaging shift in April or May to really try to convince people to take advantage of the vaccine, so it’s going to be a big challenge for us though.” 

Tulare County has also started campaigning for vaccine advocacy. The county has partnered with Spanish-speaking radio and television stations, and is relying on local doctors and community-based organizations to spread positive messages.  

“Individuals are just needing that education,” said Carrie Monteiro, public information officer for Tulare County Health and Human Services. 

Many of the campaigns will roll out around the time everyone is eligible, as Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that by April 15, anyone 16 years or older can sign up to receive the vaccine. 

Counties including Fresno, Madera and Tulare have already opened eligibility for those 16 and over.

The lack of access points to a hidden demand for vaccines in some areas. Health officials saw this firsthand in Tulare County’s Terra Bella community.

The digital divide contributes to vaccine access. In these communities, residents have limited internet access and transportation. 

“What you and I see as a simple registration process may be a very difficult registration process for someone who is 70 or can’t read and write,” Monteiro said. 

Tulare County sent out mobile vaccination clinics where officials prepared to vaccinate 200 people in the Terra Bella community. By the end of the day, there were more walk-ups than signups. 

“For people that are looking for good science, they’re going to find some very reassuring information about all of these different vaccines,” Vohra said. 

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