Vaccine hesitancy: Q & A with ICU doctor on real patient concerns

Better communication is key, doctor says

AdventHealth Dr. Eduardo Oliveira explains why some residents are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Nearly 30% of people say they are not willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a recent survey by Advent Health. The same survey also showed part of the reason is 50% of those surveyed said they believed the vaccine cannot be trusted, and a quarter believed coronavirus is made up or exaggerated.

Local health officials warn statements like these could end up being dangerous, because if people don’t get vaccinated, we will be unable to reach herd immunity. Those concerns are greater now as just this week, only about 10% of the shots available across Orange County were used.

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To better understand some of the reasons people are hesitant about the vaccine and the concerns our local medical professionals are hearing Dr. Eduardo Oliveira, Executive Director of Critical Care at Advent Health shared his insight.

Below are some questions and answers from Oliveria. Watch the full video at the top of this story.

What are some of the main reasons you’re seeing vaccine hesitancy among patients?

“First, it’s a new vaccine. So the ones that are hesitant, they claim, ‘Well, we don’t know for sure the long-term side effects or the long-term problems with the vaccination, or with this specific vaccine.’ So that’s one of the concerns, or the mRNA issue, being an mRNA vaccine and you start talking about genetics or DNA, people get concerned, ‘Oh, gee, is it going to affect my my DNA? Is it going to affect the way my cells respond? Would I have an autoimmune disease because of the vaccination?’ So that’s the second most common concern. So I would put those two at the top, under a variety of other concerns. Some of them are not very rational. But still, it’s what’s perceived by the patient or by the person.”

Is one of the reasons people believe the vaccine is politically motivated, or just simply don’t want to be told what to do?

“There is some of that, as well, That’s where you get those irrational responses. Those responses that are not based on science, you know, when you go into the conspiracy theories or it’s about control, it’s about this is a free country, or I don’t want to be told what to do. Yes, you have some of that. I think politics definitely does not help. It never mixes very well with science.”

We know that less African-Americans are vaccinated than other groups; what may be the driving factor behind hesitancy?

“I think that there are historical factors where the African-American population felt disenfranchised from a healthcare perspective, misunderstood in many ways, and in many ways misled by the unethical Tuskegee study that was done, it was was just a tragedy. So I think that there are things there that make people in the African-American community could be concerned about our health authorities and how they are leading them through this pandemic. I think that we’ve come a long way, by having celebrities, providers, practitioners, everyone of all different races and genders to come out and say, ‘This is something that we’re doing.’ I think that goes a long way to get this concern back in line and what we need to do, but it’s something that needs to be addressed, it’s not something that can be ignored, I think that we have to walk back this path of telling the truth, making sure that we are totally transparent, making sure that we know that we don’t know everything about this vaccination. That’s also something that we have to tell, that we don’t have the long-term safety data. But we also have to tell that, you know, we know what COVID does today. It kills people today. And we have to make that decision on risk-benefit ratio. And definitely, there are much more benefits than there are risks when you consider it.”

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When it comes to other minority groups or hesitant groups, what are some of the other concerns you’re seeing?

“I would say that when you when you look at the different ethnicities, it’s just how you communicate. Can you communicate in the way that they truly understand? Because there’s so much noise out there in social media, and there’s so much politics that they have infiltrated into this discussion, that it’s very easy to grasp to a conspiracy or to misguided information, because it comes to you in a way they understand. So it comes to their social media, it comes to their place of debate and discussion. So we have to be on those places. If it’s someone from our Hispanic community that doesn’t speak English very well, in plain Spanish language in making sure that they understand. So those are the things that I see most, there is also the political divide, we see something on the political square where it seems like there is more disbelief, if you are on one side of the aisle as compared to the other. I think that’s something that needs to be addressed, because still, you know, regardless of where you sit on that spectrum, we want everyone to be safe.”

Should we be concerned about effects of the vaccine?

“It’s a pretty safe vaccination. I think that in the world there were reports of blood clots. So those are things that one should pay attention to, but is exceedingly rare that someone would get that. So be cautious. I wouldn’t say, ‘don’t take it.’ Just be cautious and pay attention to your symptoms.”

“If you look at drugs that we utilize today, we use a lot of medications, a lot of drugs and a lot of treatments. And if you actually look at them now, the number of patients in which those drugs have been studied, and we consider them very safe. It’s a fraction of how many patients actually have been vaccinated. So if you look at a safety profile of a drug, this is the dream scenario of any pharmaceutical developer, right? You have millions, if not billions of patients that have been vaccinated. And when you look at the reports of adverse events, it’s a tiny fraction of it. So I would say that, yes, I understand those concerns. There are some concerns, we got to pay attention, we don’t know what those long-term reactions might be. So we really need more data. And I think that the the role of the scientific community is to be transparent about the data as soon as the data becomes available. So in continuing to investigate and study it, so the more we do that, the more patients are going to be comfortable.”

What’s the best way physicians or friends or families can help ease the concerns of people around them?

“Use your personal experiences, make it personal, especially for physicians, make it personal, make it about your family, make it about the safety of others as well. I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily about just the physicians, healthcare professionals, or anyone that can can actually educate or is in a role of educator, it could be neighbors, it could be someone that you know, just go that extra mile and talk to your neighbor. And just try to understand the reasons of why not, if they’re not getting vaccinated, and just trying to explain your point of view, not lecture someone on what they should do. I think that creates, sometimes in healthcare, greater barriers to accept new information, when you basically lecture someone.”

“From a medical community perspective, and from a government perspective, we need to find ways to communicate better, and be more, as we discussed before, talking to people, not at people. Not blaming folks for not getting vaccinated, that creates defensive mechanisms that will not be helpful. And number two, from a society perspective and a community perspective, let us help each other understand in a non-finger pointing way that the vaccine is useful, it’s going to allow us to go back to normal.”

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About the Author:

Tara Evans is an executive producer and has been with News 6 since January 2013. She currently spearheads News 6 at Nine and specializes in stories with messages of inspiration, hope and that make a difference for people -- with a few hard-hitting investigations thrown in from time to time.