COVID-19 vaccines were in high demand this past winter, with access limited to those deemed most at risk.
At first, it seemed every pharmacy was out of stock or its appointments fully booked. As eligibility was opened to all adults in late March, a parade of vaccine seekers queued up outside Dougherty’s pharmacy in Dallas in my home state of Texas. About 100 people formed a line inside the pharmacy that spilled out the front door, snaked around the corner, and filled the sidewalk almost to the alley behind the building.
Much has changed in recent weeks. On April 28, Dougherty’s vaccination nurse was sitting quietly in a back corner with little to do. Nobody was lined up for a vaccine until finally, one woman came in after about 10 minutes. That same day, at a CVS pharmacy a few miles away in Plano, Texas there were plenty of slots available with little waiting. Indeed, a few days later CVS announced it would begin accepting walk-in customers without appointments nationwide.
Both the CVS pharmacist and the nurse at Dougherty’s had the same story. People seeking vaccines had slowed to a crawl. According to the New York Times, vaccinations peaked mid-April and have fallen 50 percent since.
One-Dose or Two?
On May 6, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reported nearly 45 percent of the population had received at least one dose of the vaccine, but only one-third of Americans are fully vaccinated. The CDC is concerned not only by the slowing pace of vaccinations but also by the number of people skipping their second dose for various reasons.
“Partial vaccination is still effective,” Adam Bruggeman, M.D. a San Antonio physician told Health Care News.
Bruggeman says he thinks one vaccine dose is better than none, but two is better than one. Now that there are enough doses for everyone, Bruggeman believes the goal should be to get everyone fully vaccinated.
It is thought those not yet vaccinated don’t want the vaccine, have doubts about its safety or efficacy, or lack the motivation to seek out vaccines. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s April survey, 15 percent of respondents who have not received the vaccine plan to “wait and see,” while 6 percent will get vaccinated “only if required,” and 13 percent say they will never get the vaccine. “Vaccine hesitancy,” as it is sometimes called, accounts for about one-third of adults.
Bruggeman says he believes vaccine hesitancy is different than overcoming the logistics of making vaccines available to everyone.
“The hesitancy seen in the United States is a factor of poor leadership, inconsistent messaging, and hyper-partisanship,” says Bruggeman, who has set up a website, GetMyCovidVaccine.org, to reach this segment of the population.
Make it Easy
Vaccine hesitancy happens to be significant in Texas. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, most people eager for vaccines have received at least one dose. Yet as of mid-May, only 33.6 percent of Texans have been fully vaccinated. The state agency believes the next step is to make it easier for those willing to vaccinate but unwilling to put out much effort.
Surveys by the University of Texas for The Texas Tribute have found Republicans are more skeptical of vaccinations in general than Democrats (52 percent vs. 30 percent). However, this means nearly one-third of Democrats still have doubts about the vaccine.
Merrill Mathews, a resident scholar at the Texas-based Institute for Policy Innovation, told Health Care News that many Democrats questioned vaccine safety and efficacy while Donald Trump was still president. Matthews described Democrats’ political posturing as “a stupid and counterproductive strategy.”
The results were predictable, Matthews says.
“Having sowed the seeds of doubt, we are now seeing the results,” Matthews said.
There is some concern that low vaccine compliance could lead to virus mutations that would be impervious to the current COVID-19 vaccines.
“Covid certainly could become endemic like the flu,” Bruggeman said. On the plus side, trials showed the COVID-19 vaccines to be 90 percent effective. Flu vaccines are less so.
Matthews says he believes we will likely be dealing with COVID-19 or its variants for years to come.
“As the seasonal flu, we will see occasional outbreaks,” Matthews said.
Although troubling, Matthews says he suspects COVID-19, like infectious disease in the past, will be a manageable public health problem.
Devon Herrick, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a health economist and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.