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Cullen: Overcoming vaccine hesitancy key to post-COVID recovery

Dr. Theresa Cullen is the director of the Pima County Health Department.

COVID-19 is again spreading fast in Pima County, with 145 cases per 100,000 population as of last week. The virus’s spread has increased threefold over the past two weeks. This is largely due to the spread of the Delta variant, which is up to six times more contagious than other forms of the virus.

Hospitals are now experiencing high admission rates and their emergency and critical care resources are being stretched thin. Pima County residents and visitors must take urgent action to reduce the spread. 

En español: Superar la indecision de vacunarse es clave para la recuperacion posterior al COVID

The most important action any individual can take against COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. The process is simple. The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are all available for free at  clinics, pharmacies, and mobile sites throughout the county. The Pfizer-BioNTech is currently available to children as young as 12.

Understandably, some have been reluctant to get vaccinated due to concerns about FDA approval, side effects, and the development and clinical trial process. Pima County is working tirelessly to help allay those fears and give anyone who is still worried about COVID vaccination the information they need to overcome those worries. 

One frequently told myth about the COVID vaccines is that they were developed too quickly to be safe. This myth is sometimes reinforced by asserting that the vaccines aren’t “FDA approved,” a misleading designation when it comes to safety and efficacy. The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines all underwent the same kind of lab testing and clinical trial methods that proved the safety of the familiar flu, tetanus, and polio vaccines. The FDA’s emergency use authorization of the COVID vaccines means they have already been determined by scientists and experts to be safe and effective.

Another frequent concern about the vaccines is that they might make you sick. The vaccines are known to have some short-term side effects, like a sore arm, mild fever, or body aches. These symptoms normally last less than 24 hours. They are simply indicators that your body is mounting an immune response.

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That’s the vaccine doing its job: teaching your immune system to recognize and fight COVID.  Many employers are providing support for their employees who are getting vaccinated. Make sure to talk to your job or your school about what support may be available for you.  

Some people have expressed worries about the diversity of clinical trial subjects. This is understandable, as COVID has had a disproportionate impact on people of color, especially in severe cases. Rigorous efforts were undertaken to include a diverse range of subjects in the development of the COVID vaccines.

The trials for all of the vaccines approved in the U.S. included substantial percentages of Black, Hispanic, and older age groups, as well as people with medical risk factors such as obesity, heart, and lung disease. The problem of health disparity and inequity is real, and we must vigilantly work to identify and address this. Getting vaccinated can be the first step in helping your community stay healthy. 

Individuals with allergies are also among those hesitant to get vaccinated. According to the CDC, people with allergies to foods, insects, latex, and other common allergens should not worry about getting vaccinated. People who have had severe reactions to other vaccines should talk to their doctors before getting vaccinated.

Women who are pregnant, those contemplating pregnancy and those who are breastfeeding should get vaccinated. Be sure to talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated. The vaccines are safe for breastfeeding mothers, and there is no evidence that they can interfere with your ability to get pregnant.  

Pima County Health Department’s goal is to make COVID vaccines easily accessible for you and your family. The benefits of getting vaccinated cannot be overstated. It is the single most important thing you can do to prevent yourself from getting sick from COVID. Getting vaccinated will also protect those around you, especially your family members, businesses, schools and those in your community. The spread of this virus can be controlled, and our hope for a post-COVID recovery can eventually become a reality if enough people take this urgently important action.

Dr. Theresa Cullen is the director of the Pima County Health Department.

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Fred Boice receives a COVID-19 vaccination on Jan. 15 at the Tucson Medical Center's Marshall building.

The Last Best Shot

Editor's note: TucsonSentinel.com is one of dozens of news organizations around the country that are noted for reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, and participating in "The Last Best Shot," an effort led by The Boston Globe to combat COVID-19 vaccination disinformation.

We have a clear choice. We can mark the start of a future in which COVID is relegated to little more than a nuisance, or we can watch the disease spiral further out of our grasp. Nearly 18 months after the pandemic shuttered much of the world, we are still in a state of uncertainty, one that threatens to steal yet another season and kill people who don't need to die.

The Last Best Shot reporting being published by the Sentinel and more than 50 outlets around the nation is meant to reinforce a simple fact: The only way out is vaccination. For every eligible person. Now.

See all of the #LastBestShot stories on the Sentinel here, and all of our coronavirus reporting here.


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