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A Public Health Expert Explains Why COVID Vaccine Hesitancy Is Finally Shrinking

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Meghan Fitzgerald, RN, MPH, DrPH, is an adjunct associate professor with the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and a private equity investor. She has decades of experience working in the healthcare field, ranging from frontline patient care to advising prominent healthcare firms. Here, she shares her take on why COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is finally starting to shrink.

The number of unvaccinated Americans is shrinking.  

On July 17, there were 100 million people eligible for vaccination who still hadn’t received a shot. As of August 30, that number has dropped to 81.6 million.

This is good news. Every person who is fully vaccinated is one less person who remains at the highest risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19. This week, America achieved a vaccination rate of 875,000 doses per day. Just four weeks ago, that rate was only 620,000 per day.

What Has Changed Among the Unvaccinated?

It appears the increase in vaccination rates is the result of several converging trends:

  • Fear of the Delta variant
  • FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine
  • Stronger local mandates

Delta Changed the Game

In June, millions of vaccine-hesitant Americans still thought they could “wait and see” when it came to getting a shot. Now, people are starting to realize there’s a very good chance they will, in fact, get COVID-19 if they remain unvaccinated. 

The increase in vaccinations appears to line up with a resurgence of the virus due to the Delta variant. There have been numerous studies proving its alarming transmissibility ripping through the unvaccinated. It’s becoming harder to ignore the overwhelming data that the Delta variant increases the risk of hospitalization for the unvaccinated.  

CDC data recently announced at an August 24 White House briefing shows that because of Delta, the unvaccinated are 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people who are fully vaccinated.

FDA Approval Gives Way to Vaccine Mandates

The FDA’s formal approval of the Pfizer-BioNtech may be chipping away at vaccine hesitancy. On August 31, an ABC analysis showed Pfizer's full approval led to a 17% increase in the number of Americans getting vaccinated with their first dose.

FDA approval was also the catalyst many Fortune 500 companies needed to begin mandating vaccines. In some cases, companies have decided unvaccinated employees can even be fired, like at CNN. 

NASCAR has put vaccinated drivers in pole position. A vaccinated driver needs a negative COVID-19 test three days after an exposure for clearance to drive. An unvaccinated driver must test negative for five days while quarantining for a week.

Who Do We Still Need to Reach?

Medicaid enrollees are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at far lower rates than the general population. In California, 49% of the eligible Medi-Cal (California Medicaid) population is at least partly vaccinated compared to 74% of Californians overall. This population is hard to track and reach as they are hindered by challenges such as a lack of transportation or access to medical care. 

The next phase of getting people vaccinated requires public health experts to look in every crevice of our population and determine the needs of the unvaccinated. It’s time to transition from national vaccine outreach strategies to local and individual tactics.  

Not everyone lives near a medical center. Not everyone has an employer eager to get them vaccinated. It’s our job to meet them where they are. 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States. Updated August 31, 2021.