Although state health officials and local health providers have administered more than one million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines in Arkansas, most citizens remain unprotected. For some, this is a conscious choice motivated by skepticism surrounding the virus or concerns about the vaccines’ safety.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the first COVID-19 vaccine December 11, ten months after the detection of the virus in the United States. In December 2020, 39% of Americans said they definitely or probably will not get the COVID-19 vaccination, according to Pew Research Center.
Mackenzie Hutto, a UA senior, will not consider getting the vaccine until there has been more long-term testing of its safety and efficacy, she said.
“I don’t think they did enough research before opening the vaccine to the public,” Hutto said in an email. “How can they create a safe vaccination in under a year, but there’s a limited amount of medication for childhood cancer patients?”
Hutto usually receives all recommended vaccinations, but the politicization of the pandemic in 2020 led her to question the COVID-19 vaccine, she said.
“It’s hard to judge how bad the virus really (is) when you start to find out the media and some states lied about numbers or related each elderly death to COVID-19,” Hutto said.
A majority of COVID-19 deaths up to March 28 had multiple causes of death listed on their death certificate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Individuals with one underlying health condition are 2.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19, according to the CDC.
“(A death certificate) reflects a judgement that weighs the roles of multiple conditions, taking into account a person’s medical history along with their most recent medical data and symptoms,” according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Diana Shepherd, 54, a Fayetteville resident, questions the validity of the CDC’s data, she said. She thinks the biggest problem with most vaccine research lies in the testing population.
“(The participants) are mostly middle-aged white males who don’t have any health conditions,” Shepherd said. “So, these things are tested on people who are not necessarily the population who will get it.”
In the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine trial, results of which were published November 14, half of the 43,448 participants received the vaccine. The evaluable efficacy population consisted of 49.4% females, 81.9% white participants, 9.8% African American participants and less than 3% individuals from other racial groups. About 26.2% of participants identified as Hispanic or Latino, and about 21.4% of participants were over 65 years old.
Shepard said the medical community’s initial lack of substantial knowledge about how best to prevent and treat the virus has also led Shepherd to question the safety of the vaccine.
“I think that there was a lot of stuff that happened partially because we didn’t know very much,” Shepard said. “In the beginning, we had so many who were being put on ventilators, and then it turned out, ‘Oh, that is really not the treatment for it.’”
In March 2020, New York physician Dr. Cameron Kyle-Sidell posted a Youtube video arguing that ventilating patients according to existing pneumonia protocols could be an ill-advised form of treatment, based on the type of lung damage caused by COVID-19. Kyle-Sidell has since stepped down from his position in the intensive care unit at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. Studies on the use of ventilators are still ongoing, but the CDC has approved ventilators as a form of treatment for critically ill patients.
“I am not a (COVID-19) denier, and I know it is doing things to people,” Shepherd said. “But I think that our lack of knowledge about certain things caused treatments and procedures that we didn’t realize were going to make it worse.”
After researching the human papillomavirus vaccine, Hutto questioned whether the testing period for the COVID-19 vaccine was long enough, she said.
“If we allow ourselves to take something without proper medical research, what does that mean for the future and safety of medicine?” Hutto said.
Robin Freeman, 56, a Farmington resident, said she will not get the vaccine after she was exposed to someone with COVID-19 last July and caught the virus. She was exposed again in January but did not show any symptoms, Freeman said.
“I just don’t feel like I need (the vaccine),” Freeman said. “I feel like I have been exposed, and my doctor said I didn’t need to get it.”
Reinfection is “highly unlikely” for at least six months after an individual was infected, according to an Oxford Study. Because many COVID-19 studies are still ongoing, CDC officials recommend all adults over the age of 18 get vaccinated, regardless of past infection.
Freeman said she thinks a majority of the public is already immune to the virus.
“I think we are all in herd immunity,” Freeman said. “Because a lot of people have gotten it and walked through it just like they would with pneumonia or strep throat.”
Herd immunity is defined by the World Health Organization as “the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.” Just over 16% of the 330 million U.S. population had been vaccinated by Wednesday, according to the CDC. Total U.S. COVID-19 cases are more than 30 million.
Shepherd, Hutto and Freeman all said they might consider taking the COVID-19 vaccine in a few years.
“If years from now, more research has been performed and no harmful side effects have been discovered, I would do it,” Hutto said.