RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia Department of Health data shows around 59% of Virginians are fully vaccinated, leaving 41% who have not gotten a shot.
Health leaders say there are racial, economic and educational disparities among those not vaccinated. CBS 6 wanted to find out why some haven’t gotten in line for the vaccine and what health leaders plan to do to increase immunity if people don’t change their minds.
“We haven't had enough time to really see what it's really going to do," explained Landon Johnson.
The young Richmonder shared his perspective during a vaccine round table at Village of Faith Church last month hosted by Pastor and Richmond city councilor Mike Jones.
"The whole rationale was vaccination hesitancy within the African American church," Pastor Jones explained. "We're being impacted by it, we're dying from it, we're being hospitalized by it, and so what can we do to arm ourselves?"
The city leader is working to arm his community with knowledge by bringing in local experts like VCU Doctor Robert Winn to dispel vaccine rumors and misinformation.
"Let's not act like this tool just came up," Dr. Winn explained about the vaccine. "This tool was there and made for something else, and it just happened to be on the shelf. We were able to say alright, let's take it from the shelf and get it ready, so I think we have to tell the complete story."
Finding local doctors and faith leaders to inform communities about the vaccine is a strategy state health leaders believe is key to increasing immunity.
“People have lost trust in the government," noted Virginia vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula. "And so they don't know when the CDC makes a recommendation, they don't know if they can believe it or not.”
Dr. Avula says the biggest reason people aren’t getting a shot is fear of long-term side effects. CBS6 heard the same thing Friday from nearly a dozen Virginians who didn't feel comfortable going on camera for fear of being judged for their decision.
“We need to continually be nonjudgmental," explained Dr. Avula. "We need to listen, and we need to understand why it is that people have hesitations about this. And we need to continually bring good information, credible information in front of people and help them work to that decision."
Dr. Avula also explained that most side effects appear within the first few months, and he says the long-term effects of vaccines have been studied for years.
Others CBS 6 spoke to off-camera were fearful the shot would lead to infertility.
"At some point several months ago there was a researcher who said you know, the spike protein on the COVID virus looks a lot like proteins on the placenta," Dr. Avula noted. "I wonder if there may be a connection between the vaccine and infertility? That has continued to be proven to not be the case, but even just putting that possibility out has resulted in many, many individuals, particularly younger women of childbearing age saying, oh, I don't want to get vaccinated."
So what will happen if those who have not gotten a COVID-19 vaccine don’t change their minds?
"At some point, we will have enough of the population who are either fully vaccinated and therefore protected against severe disease, or who have been infected by COVID and have some degree of natural immunity," said Avula.
Health leaders would rather see more Virginians vaccinated and fewer ending up in the hospital on ventilators or dying from the disease, so they say they will continue to work to educate the community and encourage others not to blame or shame those who aren’t vaccinated.