The seven-day average of new cases has decreased by roughly 80% since its January 2021 peak, leading the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to say she’s “cautiously optimistic” that the country is turning a corner.
But there’s disheartening news, too: As predicted, daily vaccination rates are slipping, and experts now believe that reaching herd immunity is unlikely in the U.S. That’s in part because of new variants of the virus emerging across the globe but also because of persistent hesitancy around vaccines among many Americans.
To achieve herd immunity, experts suggest somewhere between 70% and 85% of the population needs to be vaccinated. Polls show that approximately 30% of the U.S. population are still hesitant to get the vaccine. That percentage could go down but not likely to the level needed for herd immunity.
In states such as Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Kentucky and Ohio, 20% to 25% of adults have said flat-out that they have no intention of getting vaccinated. And many more have said they’re unsure.
Still, people do change their minds. It’s very possible that those who are unsure or hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine might eventually weigh the options and decide that being inoculated is their best bet. HuffPost recently asked its readers who were reluctant to get the vaccine to talk about their earlier reservations and explain what made them change their minds. Here are their stories.
“I guess I still had this lingering fear of ‘the microchip’ that everyone was so scared of.”
“I was initially hesitant because of religious reasons. I went to a super small Pentecostal school from 4th to 8th grade, and I guess I still had this lingering fear of ‘the microchip’ that everyone was so scared of as it relates to the Bible. But then I talked to a legitimate neurologist on Facebook in a very private, random group I’m in. She explained how mRNA vaccines work. I’m a teacher and I had access to the vaccine before a lot of people I know, so I decided to go ahead and take it. After getting the vaccine, I had the usual run-of-the-mill symptoms; the weirdest one was really bad arm pain 10 days after injection.
I am back teaching in the classroom now. I cried the first day because my students were just so happy to be back. It was worth it to see their joy.”
― Chelsea, 29
“I was very hesitant because the development seemed rushed.”
“I am a strong supporter of social distancing and wearing masks. When the vaccine became available, I was very hesitant because the development seemed rushed. But my 27-year-old son got his, and since I had been so supportive of the social distancing restrictions, I felt almost embarrassed for not getting it. How can I preach to people about doing their part but I don’t do my part? So I got my first shot and luckily there were no side effects, but tomorrow I get my second shot and I hear the side effects could be really strong. The good news is I purposely scheduled it on a Friday so I would have the weekend to recover.”
― Amanda, 48
“In the Black community, there’s been historic maltreatment on the part of medical researchers.”
“I’m an emergency medicine physician with regular exposure to COVID-19 patients, so I knew I would be prioritized for vaccination. But for many months, I was against being among the first to get the shot. Instead, I planned to wait and see how others did with the vaccine. In the Black community, there’s been historic maltreatment on the part of medical researchers and the health care system, so there’s mistrust there.
What changed my mind? There were many reasons which I’ve gone into detail about in an NBC article but I’ll discuss three. First, I had to educate myself about how the vaccine had been created. Seeing photographs of Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black scientist at the heart of Moderna’s vaccine development, in her lab was powerful. As I told NBC News, ‘representation matters and is critical to repairing centuries of structural racism that contributes to medical mistrust.’
Second, I read about the experiences of people of color and trusted Black physicians who participated in vaccine trials. Third, my mom was begging me to get vaccinated.”
― Eugenia C. South, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
“I studied how it works, the ingredients and other types of vaccines and immediately came to the conclusion that it was safe and effective.”
“I live in Alaska and I became an EMT last year. I was initially a little hesitant to get my COVID vaccine because I am in a few Facebook groups where other medics and even nurses were commenting that they wanted to wait to see more clinical trials.
But my state has had great success with vaccine campaigns. A couple of months ago I was hired to work at a free clinic in Anchorage that was giving the COVID vaccine. We had EMT training centered on the COVID vaccine. I studied how it works, the ingredients and other types of vaccines and immediately came to the conclusion that it was safe and effective. By this time, many of my friends and co-workers had already received it, and I realized I would be left behind if I didn’t jump on board.
Another great part of the medic training I received around the COVID vaccine was how to speak with patients about their own vaccine hesitancy. We were taught to listen to vaccine concerns with patience and empathy, because it is normal for a non-medical community member to have questions around something that they are unfamiliar with and are being asked to put into their body.
I always tell patients, mRNA vaccines are proven safe: It’s just ‘teaching your body to make up a guy, then get really mad at that guy.’ (I found that one online somewhere and thought it was a hilarious and great way to explain the mRNA-type COVID vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna.)
Now I can’t believe I was hesitant to get that particular vaccine! In order to be an EMT we must get many other vaccines, and the same goes for visiting my overseas family. The proof of vaccination cards are nothing new, and getting the vaccine is an easy way to take control and feel a sense of power and community after such a stressful year where many felt like there was no way to help out and nothing they could do.”
― Pepper, 30
“I made the decision to conquer my phobia.”
“I work in education, and although I was eligible for the vaccine months ago, I hesitated. I have a severe needle phobia and was hoping I wouldn’t have to get the shot. My district was still distance learning when I first became eligible, so I could get away with procrastinating having a needle poked in my arm!
But we went back to in-person learning in March and I panicked. The ability to get a shot was very limited. Appointments filled up very quickly ― and I was still nervous about the needle. The anxiety was overwhelming. Since getting an appointment was so hard, I procrastinated again.
After being back in school for a few weeks and hearing how many people said the shot was very easy, I made the decision to conquer my phobia. I found someone on my neighborhood Facebook page that offered to help people find appointments. Within one day she secured an appointment for me. It wasn’t for a few weeks so I had time to prepare myself. I got my first Pfizer shot at Rite Aid Tuesday, May 4th. It was so easy! I haven’t had any side effects and feel absolutely fine. The shot itself was very, very fast and the jab was much gentler than I anticipated. I am not worried at all to get my second shot at the end of May.”
― Michelle Scott, an educator
“What changed my mind? Ultimately it was because of the passing of relatives in India.”
“Initially I felt that the vaccine was not a guarantee against multi-strain varieties of the virus. I was holding out for a one-shot vaccine that catered to this. I was also doubtful of its efficacy seeing how rapidly strains seem to mutate. For me, there was also a distinct sense of anger at the government for being too lax and flexible with international air travel; it was as if danger was being brought directly to our door with no regard for our health or the possible spread from travelers. I worried the vaccine could only mitigate, not eliminate, symptoms and the virus itself. There was also widespread news about blood clots for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which made me hesitant as well.
What changed my mind? Ultimately it was because of the passing of relatives in India, one in particular a healthy, vivacious and health-conscious cousin. This, along with another passing of a close relative, made me realize that I didn’t want to be the only one unprotected out of stubbornness when others had gotten it here. Also, if vaccine passports become the norm, then my travel would be restricted, and travel is something I need to do a lot for work.”
― Saurav Dutt, author, 38
“I had conversation with my maternal fetal doctor. He changed my mind.”
“I was hesitant at first because I was pregnant and there wasn’t a lot of information out there for pregnant women. Even my midwives were like, ‘Get it if you want. We aren’t telling you to or not to.’ Then as more information came out about pregnant women who got it, I had a conversation with my maternal fetal doctor who is very intelligent and someone I trust completely. He changed my mind. It was more of a back and forth ― I’m for vaccines and trust science completely, but I was still nervous mostly because of being pregnant. I got my first dose before giving birth and my second a week after giving birth. I’m hoping it can give my baby some antibodies with the first shot and even now because I’m breastfeeding him.
I also work in a hospital and I’ve had COVID once, so I do not want to get it again, spread it to my family or get it worse a second time around. I’ve seen what it can do, and my family personally experienced a loss from it, so I want to protect my family and myself as much as I can.”
― Maria, 31
“My lupus made me uneasy about the vaccine because I did not know what to expect after vaccination.”
“I was reluctant to get the vaccine because I have an autoimmune disorder: lupus. I knew that lupus put me at a greater risk of having a severe outcome if I were to get COVID, but at the same time, lupus made me uneasy about the vaccine because I did not know what to expect after vaccination. The data on vaccine efficacy and side effects did not and mostly still does not include people with autoimmune disorders. I was concerned that the vaccine could cause a flare-up or a serious reaction.
I finally became comfortable with being vaccinated after reading about it on lupus.org and communicating with my rheumatologist. My doctor’s advice was to get the vaccine and skip one dose of one of my medications following the shot. (This is a medication that I only take once a week and could affect the efficacy of the vaccine. Essentially, after each shot, I didn’t take that medication for the week.) I have been fully vaccinated since earlier this month and despite not knowing how effective the vaccine actually is for me, it still gives me some peace of mind to know I’m vaccinated.”
― Regina, 42
“Initially, I would tell myself, ‘Oh, I’ll just take the vaccine in two or three years.’”
“I was initially reluctant to take the COVID-19 vaccine because I felt that the development of the vaccines were happening rather quickly. It almost felt like a really ‘quick fix.’ Initially, I would tell myself, ‘Oh, I’ll just take the vaccine in two or three years.’ What changed my mind were my parents who I live with along with my baby nephew. Both of my parents have their first dose and I am waiting to get my first dose in two weeks. I want to make sure that I am doing all that I can to keep all of them safe. I can say that I am doing my part and proud of it. I’m looking forward to the day when the whole family can all gather and celebrate like we used to.”
― Christine, 29
Responses have been edited for style and clarity.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.