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Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Cameron Webb address Georgia’s vaccine hesitancy



AUGUSTA, Ga. – Top White House coronavirus advisers on Friday said the troubling rates of vaccine hesitancy among Georgians can be turned around, but it will take work.

Responding to findings in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll that a quarter of the state’s adults don’t plan to ever get vaccinated and others are hesitant, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Cameron Webb said it is important to not finger point but to be conciliatory and to listen.

Digging in to address individual concerns needs to be a priority, the scientists said.

“People have different reasons for not wanting to get vaccinated,” said Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president. “Find out what the reason is.”

The two advisers spoke in a Zoom session about the issue Friday with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV. As the AJC reported this week, just 25% of all Georgians are fully vaccinated, and an additional 10% have had one dose of a two-dose regimen. Some additional Georgians have actually been sick with COVID-19, which gives a person some immunity.

Those numbers are below the national average, and well short of the goal of people being generally safe from infection without having to deal with masks and other protective measures. Yet the recent poll conducted for the AJC found that Georgia has an array of populations that have not gotten vaccinated and are hanging back or flat-out refusing.

Among the poll’s findings, two-thirds Republicans who haven’t gotten vaccinated said they won’t get the shots, compared with a quarter of Democrats.

Fauci advised steering away from making political leanings a one-dimensional identity and instead finding out the reasons someone rejects vaccination. Asked what he would tell a hesitant Republican, Fauci responded, “I would appeal to them as an individual and not as a Republican.”

The poll also showed vaccine hesitancy tends to be higher among young adults.

Webb, the White House COVID-19 response team’s senior policy adviser for COVID-19 equity, said that people tend to operate in their own self interest, which can make it hard to persuade those who are younger to get vaccine because they are less likely to die from the infection.

“People have different reasons for not wanting to get vaccinated,” said Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president. “Find out what the reason is.”

– Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president

But even younger and healthy people are vulnerable to disconcerting symptoms from “long COVID,” where the disease’s effects linger in some people, he said.

“It becomes pretty apparent that it’s in people’s best interest to not get COVID,” Webb said.

One reason some readers told AJC reporters they’re waiting to take the vaccine was that they wonder why the vaccine was developed so quickly — “rushed,” they said.

The science wasn’t rushed, Fauci said. It’s “a reflection of the decades of extraordinarily exquisite scientific advances that antedated, the actual epidemic itself,” he said.

Then when the pandemic exploded, Fauci said, they didn’t have to wait long to find a big group of people for the studies: The virus was everywhere.

Some AJC readers who wrote in with suggested questions for Fauci and Webb wanted to know the consequences if the state doesn’t reach herd immunity.

Not good, said Fauci. As long as there are vulnerable people, he said, infections in the community will find their way to them. But what’s important, he added, was to focus on the end game. Some of the most vaccine hesitant are the ones who most dislike the pandemic restrictions. There is a way out of those: vaccination.

“We all want to get back to some degree of normality,” Fauci said. “The easiest way to get the public health restrictions pulled back is to have a very high level of vaccination in your community.”

It can be accomplished, he said.

“Numbers that we would like to see would be 70% of the population having received at least one dose by the fourth of July,” he said. “And there’s no reason why we can’t attain that throughout all communities in the country.”