PHOENIX — The state’s top health official says not enough Arizonans may be willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine, which first becomes available to high-priority groups next week, to achieve some sort of “herd immunity.”
Ideally, Arizona will get to the 70% level of immunization, said Dr. Cara Christ. That’s the bare minimum of what many in the medical community consider necessary to prevent widespread infection.
But Christ acknowledged Arizona has a certain number of people who are suspicious of all vaccines. And these are new vaccines, being permitted through an “emergency use authorization” by the Food and Drug Administration.
On top of that, a survey said more than a third of the state’s health-care professionals who were polled said they’re unlikely to get a vaccine, even if it’s approved by the FDA.
Christ, however, said she sees the numbers as “promising,” as 55% of health-care providers surveyed said they’re likely to get the vaccine.
She also noted the survey, by OH Predictive Insights on behalf of the Arizona Department of Health Services, was done in the last half of November. Christ said she believes health-care professionals now have more information and their views about the vaccine may be changing.
But this isn’t strictly about the attitude of doctors and nurses. The state health director said these medical personnel are among the “trusted sources of health information” for other individuals making decisions about getting a novel vaccine.
“We need to create a campaign using the most impactful messages aimed at those who have concerns or are unlikely to take the vaccine to increase the willingness to be vaccinated,” Christ said.
Messages from someone who already took the vaccine are “also one of the best confidence boosters,” she said. “So encouraging those who have been vaccinated to discuss the vaccination with their colleagues may help improve vaccination coverage.”
But the health chief said she is realistic in her expectations of how many Arizonans will go along.
Her best indication is the annual flu vaccine.
“Sometimes we’ll fall anywhere between 37% and 50% of the population getting vaccinated,” she said. “It may fall somewhere in there.”
There are other issues to consider even in encouraging medical professionals to get vaccinated.
One is that the vaccine itself has side effects, including causing a possible fever.
“That’s your body’s normal response to an infection,” Christ said. “And it does that when you get a vaccine.”
That could result in doctors and nurses, already in short supply, staying home after getting inoculated.
“That is a concern,” Christ said. “We’ve been working with our health-care partners discussing the need to stagger their health-care workers’ (vaccinations). You probably don’t want all of the emergency room physicians going in at the same time.”
Anyway, Christ said, no one wants a health-care worker with a fever showing up on the job, even if the suspected cause is the vaccine.
Separately, Christ expressed disappointment with some elected officials who not only do not wear masks but also have told people to ignore the advice of health-care professionals about covering up. Those specifically include Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., who has posted a series of anti-mask messages on the internet.
“It makes the messaging difficult,” Christ said.
She said there are scientific studies that prove masks keep people who may not know they have COVID-19, because they have no symptoms, from transmitting the virus to those around them.
“But there are also studies that have scientifically proven that it protects me, by wearing my mask, in case anybody else is asymptomatic and could be spreading,” she said.
Christ said anyone with questions should find “reputable websites” for more information, including that of her own Arizona Department of Health Services; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; or local health departments “to really get the facts and the data on masking.”