Special to Iredell Free News

As the new, highly contagious COVID-19 variant causes virus cases to rise once again, vaccination rates continue to fall.

This widespread decline in COVID vaccinations is largely due to vaccine hesitancy. Millions of American adults are still unsure of the vaccine, or simply considering what it might mean for themselves and their families.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), providers are administering, on average, less than 1 million vaccine doses per day. This is an 83 percent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million vaccine doses reported in April.

Dr. Rachel DiSanto

“I am worried that the dropping vaccine rates will cause yet another large spike in COVID cases and could even lead to another period of restrictions and lockdowns. We are already seeing this happen in counties and states with the lowest vaccination rates,” said Dr. Rachel B. DiSanto, a physician at Statesville Family Practice, part of the Iredell Physician Network.

For instance, as reported by the CDC, Vermont currently has the fewest number of COVID-19 cases in the nation, reporting only 4.7 infections per 100,000 people in one week. Vermont, however, has an at least one-dose vaccination rate of 82.8 percent.

In contrast, Missouri, as the new variant surges throughout the state, has reported 148.7 COVID-19 infections per 100,000 people in just one week. Missouri has a one-dose vaccination rate of 45.4 percent.

Iredell Health System has vaccinated over 50,000 individuals in Iredell and the surrounding counties. Yet, due to decreased demand, it has had to cease holding public vaccine clinics.

While being vaccinated against COVID-19 is a personal choice, understanding the importance of virus immunity can help increase the public’s confidence of the vaccine and in turn help to slow the spread of this coronavirus variant.

So, why are so many Americans hesitant to receive the vaccine? Many of their doubts lie within concerns about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Safety Concerns

Of those whom DiSanto has encountered, there is a common perception that the vaccines are neither safe nor have been around long enough to determine long-term effects.

Among the three emergency-approved vaccines in the United States, the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials are one of the largest clinical trials in the history of any vaccine, with more than tens of thousands of participants.

“The CDC is collecting more safety data and monitoring these vaccines more closely than any other vaccine in U.S. history, making COVID vaccines the most rigorously studied vaccines in history,” she added.

Though there have been extremely rare adverse events that have been reported soon after vaccine administration, these are far less likely to occur than catching COVID and having a serious complication from the virus itself.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the vast majority of vaccine side effects are very short-term and not serious nor dangerous. You may feel injection-site pain, a headache, or fever, after receiving your vaccine. However, these are just signs that the vaccine is working and stimulating your immune system.

In the vaccine clinical trials, the vast majority of adverse effects or issues arose within the first six weeks of vaccine administration.

“So now that we have a year’s worth of data and testing on the COVID vaccine, it is extremely unlikely that serious long-term effects will start showing up now,” said DiSanto.

There are several myths and rumors circling the use of the vaccine. As stated by the CDC, common falsified myths include the vaccine causing you to become magnetic, the vaccine altering your DNA, and the vaccine causing pregnancy problems.

Dr. Laura Randolph

“Vaccine hesitancy has in large part stemmed from the spread of misinformation on social media,” said Dr. Laura Randolph, an OB/GYN at Piedmont Healthcare Women’s Center.

According to Randolph, the assertion that the COVID-19 vaccine interferes with female infertility supposedly arose from a letter written to the European Medicines Agency. This letter claimed that the genetic code of a protein in the placenta was slightly similar to the genetic code of a protein in the COVID-19 vaccine, called the spike protein. However, there is a less than 1 percent similarity between these two proteins.

Because of this very small similarity, some believe that the antibodies from the COVID-19 vaccine could react to the placental protein and reject the placenta. But proteins that react in that way typically share a greater than 75 percent similarity, which is much greater than the mere 1 percent

“If antibodies to the COVID-19 spike protein led to placental damage or infertility, we would be seeing an epidemic of this in the more than 180 million people worldwide that have been infected and over a billion people that have been vaccinated,” said Randolph.

To try to combat this myth, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine issued a joint statement saying that the COVID vaccine does not impact fertility.

Additionally, since the COVID-19 vaccine, there have been 123,000 individuals who have reported a pregnancy in the CDC’s post-vaccination checker.

“Vaccinations are ultimately a personal choice, especially in the context of pregnancy, and the goal of physicians is to provide accurate information on which our patients can base their decision,” said Randolph.

Furthermore, make sure to be wary and careful about where you obtain vaccine information. Check credible websites, like the CDC, and do not always believe everything you see on social media.

Efficacy Concerns

It’s important to know that COVID-19 vaccines are indeed effective.

According to America’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, nearly all of the recent COVID-19 deaths in the United States involved unvaccinated people.

“The three emergency-approved vaccines in the US are extremely effective at preventing serious COVID infection and death, and very effective at preventing even asymptomatic COVID infection, depending on the vaccine,” said DiSanto.

DiSanto believes that many individuals have the perception that the COVID vaccine is “just like the flu shot.”

“However, they are not the same thing as the flu shot. They have been shown to be effective against many of the variant strains of COVID that have emerged since the vaccines were developed,” said DiSanto.

As another efficacy concern, many people who have already contracted COVID believe that they still have the antibodies and thus are immune and do not need the vaccine.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, people who have already had COVID-19 may still benefit from getting vaccinated. Though there is not enough information to definitively say how long COVID antibodies are effective, re-infection of COVID-19 is very possible. Early studies suggest that these antibodies may not last very long, but more evidence needs to be collected to understand this better.

“We have no way of knowing yet how long those antibodies will last and whether that protects people from variant strains of COVID. It is safest and best to still have a COVID vaccine, especially if you had COVID more than four months ago,” said DiSanto.

Vaccine Importance

It is widely understood that vaccination is an essential tool to stop the spread of COVID-19. People are more ready than ever to get back to “normal.”

“Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself, your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. It is the best way to end the pandemic. And it is the best chance at getting life, society, and the economy back to normal,” said DiSanto.

If you are interested in getting vaccinated, please call the Iredell Health System COVID vaccine hotline at 704-878-7787. Please leave a message clearly stating your first and last name, as well as your phone number.

Hotline messages will be checked weekly, and you will be contacted with more information about vaccine availability soon after. Vaccine clinics will be held based on demand. Should demand not be high enough to warrant holding a clinic, Iredell Health System will contact you with other vaccination options.

Still have questions? Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.

“Your primary care provider is happy to see you to discuss any questions you may have about the COVID vaccine, including safety and efficacy,” DiSanto said.

About Iredell Health System

Iredell Health System includes Iredell Memorial Hospital; Iredell Mooresville; Iredell Home Health; Iredell Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center; Community and Corporate Wellness; Occupational Medicine; the Iredell Physician Network and more. Iredell Memorial Hospital is the largest and only nonprofit hospital in Iredell County. The comprehensive healthcare facility has 247 beds; more than 1,700 employees; and has 260 physicians representing various specialties. Centers of excellence include Women’s and Children’s; Cardiovascular; Cancer; Surgical Services and Wellness & Prevention. The Health System’s newest campus, Iredell Mooresville, is home to the area’s only 24-hour urgent care facility, as well as an ambulatory surgery center, imaging center, rehabilitation services, and physician practices. The mission of Iredell Health System is to inspire wellbeing. For a comprehensive list of services and programs, visit www.iredellhealth.org.