Politicization of Covid-19 vaccine leads to hesitancy, officials say

MEDFORD, Ore. — “I think when you start attaching public health information to a political agenda. You’re heading into trouble,” said Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County public health officer.

As the death toll of the pandemic grows, a Covid-19 vaccine is now a reality.

The news is reassuring for some.

But for others, there’s no simple answer.

“In the days of kind of distrust and the internet and not knowing who to believe, I can see that people have a difficult time,” said Dr. Shames.

Dr. Shames says resistance to vaccines isn’t new.

It’s how some parents feel before getting kids or babies vaccinated.

A big part of the hesitancy today, he says, is how the Covid-19 vaccine is politicized.

“The fundamental tool that we have is people trust us, believe us, and that we’re transparent with them,” said Dr. Shames. “Once someone comes in and starts mucking around with that and adds a political component to it, I don’t think anything good can come of it.”

An Oregon Health Authority survey this September appears to confirm that.

The OHA asked roughly 1,000 Oregonians about the Covid-19 vaccine.

5 in 10 said they are not certain if they would get a vaccine.

4 in 10 said they would definitely get it.

Strong opinions on the survey also show a partisan divide with 48 percent of democrats and 26 percent of republicans saying ‘yes’ to a vaccine.

6 percent of democrats and 19 percent of republicans said ‘no.’

“I think it’s a fallout of the politicization of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Dr. David Candelaria, Josephine Co. health officer.

The data isn’t surprising to Dr. Candelaria either.

In his county, he says the resistance to the vaccine varies.

“[Some say] the vaccine was kind of rushed to market. And the other resistance is not having any idea of what any long-term [effects] of the vaccine [are]. And we just don’t know because the vaccine hasn’t been around long enough,” said Dr. Candelaria.

But if there’s one thing both doctors say they’re confident about is opinions will shift.

“I think the more people are vaccinated and the more people who see vaccinated people in their community are doing okay, those people who are on the fence are going to be more comfortable having a vaccine,” said Dr. Candelaria.

In recent years, Dr. Shames says 20 and 25 percent of Ashland school kids were not fully vaccinated.

That’s compared to the county’s rates for school kids, which was around 6 to 8 percent.

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