Despite Hospitals Screaming for Help, the Unvaccinated Refuses to Take a Jab
Many hospitals in Ohio who are running short on beds and staff recently ran a full-page newspaper advertisement asking unvaccinated Americans to finally get vaccinated after a fast-spreading new strain of the Coronavirus spread across the country. The one-word message ad reads, “Help.”
A suburban Ohio cafeteria, however, offered a succinct response. Jackie Rogers, 58, an accountant replied: “Never.”
Wionews report that for the approximately 39 million American adults who haven’t received a single dose of vaccine in the past year.
Nonetheless, opposition to vaccines has hardened from skepticism and apprehension to something upheld by faith.
Health experts now estimate that about 15% of adults remain unvaccinated and are at the highest risk for severe COVID disease and omicron. There is a high possibility that hospitals will be swamped with COVID patients. Cleveland’s Cleveland Clinic is already bursting at the seams with patients who need life support after omicron cases soared there.
The problem is only exacerbated by the fact that vaccination rates have plateaued this month even as omicron spreads. In addition, fewer children and adults are getting vaccinated and receiving booster shots than health experts had hoped. The number of children 5-11 years old who have received a vaccine is about 20%. A little more than one-third of Americans who are fully vaccinated have gotten a booster.
In New York, elsewhere in the Northeast, and in the Midwest, high numbers of Omicron infections are still too early to predict whether a surge in hospitalizations and deaths is going to follow. Researchers have found that the new variant seems to cause fewer severe effects than previous variants.
But so far, omicron’s threat has not changed minds. A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 90% of unvaccinated adults would not be compelled to get shots because of the Omicron variant.
Unvaccinated people claimed that the wily ability of Omicron to infect vaccinated people only reinforced their decision to not get the shot. The disease’s changing nature has made some more determined not to contract it in the future.
“It’s just another variant,” added Dianne Putnam, a Dalton, Georgia resident who is unvaccinated.
“Next year there’ll be another one. I mean, there’s going to always be different variants.”
With the help of public health campaigns and employee vaccination mandates, the rate of unvaccinated fence-sitters has decreased significantly since the summer.
According to surveys, remaining unvaccinated Americans who steadfastly refuse to get a shot are often younger, whiter, and more conservative than those who have had a shot or are considering it.
Since omicron was first detected in the United States in December, at least 6 million first doses have been given. Those figures come with a caveat: boosters sometimes get misclassified as first doses, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns we may overestimate the number of Americans getting their first shots.
Booster shots, among the most frequently administered doses around the country in recent weeks, have become the focus of many state and federal health officials. First doses continued to be slow than much of the previous summer, with around 300,000 given per day, and then dropped even further before the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for young children was authorized in October when the rate of first doses started to climb again.
Around 220 million adults were vaccinated on Saturday, an increase driven in part by mandates.
It’s still common to find low vaccination rates in rural areas and the South, particularly Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas, and Alabama. The rate of vaccination in those states is around half its population, which is significantly lower than the national rate of about 62%.
Unvaccinated people have told interviews across the country that they have grown numb to pleas from exhausted doctors and nurses and their own families for vaccinations. According to them, this is because vaccinations have become part of politics, they have become entangled.
In spite of a set of mandates that have been shown to make a significant impact on vaccination rates in places and at companies that enforce them, the group said they would not be swayed by President Biden’s call for vaccinations as a patriotic duty.
“The nail in the coffin was when they said you had to get the vaccine. It definitely turned me away,” Cyrarra Bricker, 26, a Fort Worth sales representative, said.
Over 91% of adult Democratic citizens in the United States receive at least one shot, compared with about 60% of adult Republican citizens.
Trump had endorsed two vaccines this week, drawing praise from Biden despite his supporters rejecting them.
In an event last Sunday in Dallas, he insisted that a shot in the arm was a tangible way of showing that the three vaccines he helped develop during his tenure as president were one of his greatest accomplishments. The Daily Wire, a conservative media site, also published a video interview with Trump this past week in which he defended vaccines and rejected mandates.
“Forget about the mandates; people have to have their freedom,” Trump declared.
“But at the same time, the vaccine is one of the greatest achievements of mankind.”
Yet, many right-wing members of the media regularly disseminate disinformation about vaccines, deterring many from receiving vaccinations.
Meanwhile, opponents of the administration’s vaccine mandates fight to block its vaccination requirements for federal contractors, health care workers, and Head Start programs. A group of anti-vaccination activists has applauded the actions of Republican governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas to thwart vaccination policies in schools or businesses.
Despite the state’s low vaccination rate, Arkansas health secretary José R. Romero said it showed the degree of opposition to the shot among those yet to be convinced.
“Unfortunately, we can’t say that we’ve identified a single thing that has really moved the needle to any great extent,” Romero explained.
“It’s just slowly chipping away at this. It’s sort of a mouse eating the elephant one bit at a time. And you just keep going.”
Officials at the White House believe there are few remaining policy levers to pull as the Supreme Court reviews challenges to the vaccine mandates of the Biden administration. Biden’s ability to increase the vaccinated ranks of domestic airline passengers is one of the few tools he still has at his disposal. According to senior administration officials, the administration does not plan to enact that for the time being.
“Pure persuasion? I think we’ve sort of run out of options,” Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
He added that there was still hope anyway. There were still people who were scared of omicron. Americans without vaccinations aren’t a one-dimensional group, he added. Perhaps more safety data would induce some to get vaccinations.
Another government vaccine passport system could be a valuable resource, Fauci said along with some other public health experts. When many businesses and other organizations request passports under this program, he explained, “a lot of people are going to realize that it’s so inconvenient not to be vaccinated that they might as well go ahead.”
Yet unvaccinated individuals like Eric Dilts, 45, a DoorDash delivery driver from St. Joseph, Missouri, said he gained more confidence in his skepticism as he learned more about booster shots and breakthrough infections from public officials.
“Now you need a first shot and second shot, and now they’re talking about all these boosters,” he expressed.
“How many shots do you need? It seems like a joke to me.”
This year, unvaccinated Americans have accounted for almost all severe cases and deaths caused by the virus, and experts say vaccines are the best way to prevent severe illnesses and death. The unvaccinated are “much more likely to be in a hospital, and they’re much more likely to be taking up a bed that might be wanted” this winter, Bill Hanage, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researcher said.
Many unvaccinated people have instead placed their faith in “natural immunity” to weather COVID-19 so far, even though infectious disease experts have warned that the body’s natural defenses would not be enough to prevent reinfection.
According to Marie Elena Rigo, 51, of Los Angeles, who contracted the virus in January, testing for antibodies had given her confidence, but a recent outbreak of disease among friends and family had given her a second thought. Her son, 11, also tested positive for the infection on Wednesday.
“He coughed on me last night when I hugged him,” she said. “I don’t feel scared. I never was scared.”
In her opinion, reaching the unvaccinated is now the U.S. response’s greatest challenge, according to Dr. Luciana Borio, a former chief scientist at the Food and Drug Administration.
Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said the agency is still conducting a public education campaign on vaccines, with a focus on reaching young children and persons in need of a booster vaccination. In recent ads targeted at rural youth, the message was: “When you’re done with COVID, it doesn’t mean it’s done with you.” Other ads warning rural adults of the financial costs of getting sick warned about the health risks of the virus.
Cleveland has one of the worst COVID trends nationwide. There is a flood of omicron infections on the horizon, with patients suffering from the delta variant clogging intensive care units. There has been a 234% increase in new infections in Cuyahoga County, which comprises Cleveland.
Currently, there are not enough beds in emergency rooms and intensive care units in Ohio, where 60% of people have received at least one shot. The growing number of breakthrough infections is forcing them to call back workers from holiday vacations.
Only a single bed was available on Thursday morning in a sixth-floor ICU on the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus, where about 90% of patients did not have any vaccines. It has become so busy in intensive care that nurses move patients themselves to make space for new patients when a bed opens up.
“It feels like it will never end,” Claire Strauser, a nurse manager, said. Strauser’s adult son refuses to get vaccinated despite her repeated pleas.
In an effort not to infect herself and lose her job, Strauser said she won’t see him over Christmas.
“I don’t know what can change,” she added. “They’re just dug in.”