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Vaccine Hesitancy: From the Inside Out

The question of any day in the midst of the pandemic seems to be, WHY are people so hesitant to get vaccinated? Although the question is the same, the answers range from the fear of history repeating itself, rumors of severe or fatal side effects or just a deeply rooted mistrust of physicians. From a provider perspective, encouraging patients to get vaccinated presents itself as the ultimate uphill challenge. Even a vaccinated physician sharing their own testimony of success fails at winning the trust of the average patient.

That same hesitancy… I know it very well. I know it personally.

National Institute of Health Researcher, Dr. Ian Moore offers a rare and informative perspective. As a native of Brewton, Alabama, he is more than familiar with life as it exists in a minutely populated rural area. Dr. Moore was fortunate enough to have worked with the development of the Moderna vaccine. He conducted pre-clinical studies as well as safety and efficacy studies. His efforts were instrumental in the transition of studies from animals safely to humans with an emergency approval from the FDA to begin use. His continuous involvement with compiling data and reports as well as numerous conversations of discovery have helped establish what we know today about the Moderna vaccine.

In the same manner that Dr. Moore is connected to the evolution of such groundbreaking progress in the battle against COVID, he shares an even deeper connection to the same hesitancy that flows through our minority communities and diverse ethnic groups. Dr. Moore states, “That same hesitancy, I know it very well. I know it personally. I know people who I grew up with who don’t believe in vaccinations. But not because they didn’t believe the vaccines wouldn’t work but because they felt the vaccines weren’t safe or not in their best interest.” Even though armored with a strong background as a researcher with other projects and vaccine conversations, Dr. Moore recognizes this pandemic as “different.”

COVID has not only exposed the levels of vaccine hesitancy among minorities, but also revealed the stagnant disparities that seem to plague underserved populations and rural areas. Medical mistrust still prevails as people never forget previous mistakes and mistreatments, making it hard for providers to encourage patients to become proactive rather than reactive. For these reasons, a proportionately large number of minorities refuse to establish a relationship with a primary care provider, ignoring signs and symptoms of life threatening conditions until it’s too late. According to Dr. Moore, “What COVID has done is highlight some of the disparities by affecting those groups who are already reluctant to go get treatment.” This reluctance has increased the vulnerability of communities, contributing to hidden underlying health conditions and increased severe disease outcomes. In regards to COVID, with all of these factors in place, these underserved areas become havens for infection.

Currently there are three vaccines available: Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson is a vector vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer are mRNA vaccines where only the genetic sequence at spike protein is taken. These spike projections are the spike-like projections that are present on virus particles that attach themselves to lung cells when a person breathes in (inhales). The goal is to take the spike protein sequence or what it takes for the virus to produce it. After scientific processes, the sequence is then injected into the body, into the muscles as a vaccine where it interacts with muscle cells. The ribosomes within the muscle cells interpret the sequence. From this interpretation, spike proteins are moved from inside the cell to the surface of the cell. Once on the surface, the body processes the new substances and carries them over to the lymph nodes where the T-cells and B-Cells live. The B-Cells in the body are responsible for making the antibodies that respond and protect you.

The reputation of the vaccines is accompanied by misconceptions regarding side effects. Dr. Moore did take a first and second dose of the vaccine. The experience with the first dose was arm soreness that lasted 24 to 48 hours. His second dose was accompanied by mild chills and fever that again lasted no more than 24 to 48 hours. Dr. Moore explains, “The reality is not everyone will have side effects. But if you do have side effects, the important thing to know is that side effects are a good thing. This means your body is responding…” Concerning reports of more intense side effects with the second dose, Dr. Moore adds further insight, “Your body is now educated, prepared… So the chills and fever that you experience is the body generating antibodies.”

There were people with pre-existing immune disorders that participated in the vaccine trials who did well. However, Dr. Moore advises anyone with these conditions should seek the advice of their primary provider to see if vaccination is a feasible choice.

COVID has stirred the voice of vaccine hesitancy among minorities causing trust and confidence in both the providers and the system to be tainted. For change to progress, it takes the eye, the ear and the voice of the providers to reach those they serve. Dr. Ian Moore’s perspective offers the experience as a member of the minority community, as an instrument in the development of the Moderna vaccine and as a vaccine participant himself. His actions and participation meet the needs of those who demand to see themselves in those who expect them to comply with medical advice and directions.

“Taking precautions and understanding what’s happening to your body is very important.”

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