Physicians must battle vaccine hesitancy

Physicians must battle vaccine hesitancy

Although 90% of residents in Sedgwick County said they were concerned about the COVID-19 virus, only two-thirds of residents here said they planned to get the COVID-19 vaccine – sparking concern among health officials about reaching the goal of herd immunity, according to a study conducted the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita.

The study, which was conducted in November and December of 2020, surveyed residents in seven counties in south central Kansas, encompassing Butler, Cowley, Harvey, Marion, Reno, Sedgwick and Sumner. Researchers wanted to get an idea of what percentage of the population here would receive the vaccine, and whom they trusted most for information.

Nearly 20% of Sedgwick County residents said they might get the vaccine and 16% said they did not plan to get it at all. And of those who said they would get the vaccine, 50% of them planned to wait at least one to three months or longer after it became available. All this poses a challenge to getting to the point when most of Sedgwick County’s population is immune to COVID-19, thus providing indirect protection—or herd immunity — to those who are not immune to the disease.


“We will not achieve herd immunity with 65% of Sedgwick County residents getting vaccinated,” said Elizabeth Ablah, PhD, MPH, a population health professor and researcher with KUSM-W. “To achieve herd immunity and improve the health of their patients, our physicians need to address the concerns of Sedgwick County residents.”

That may be a viable plan. The survey found that 84% of Sedgwick County residents listed doctors/medical providers as their most trusted source of information, followed by researchers at 82%, pharmacies at 75%, and government agencies at 74%.

The least trusted sources were the news at 37% and social media at 7%, thrusting physicians to the forefront of educating and encouraging their patients to get vaccinated against coronavirus.

“Physicians will have to take a lead in letting their patients know the importance of getting a vaccine that is safe and very effective,” said Garold Minns, MD, Sedgwick County’s public health officer. “I think PSAs are planned, but there is so much politics and false information on social media sites that a personal statement by one’s physician will be needed to overcome the falsehoods that are being propagated.”

That’s why the American Medical Association in December wrote a letter to the top executives at Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube imploring the social media platforms to share timely, accurate and transparent information on the vaccine from trusted public health institutions, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This task becomes even more significant in the face of multiple, sophisticated disinformation campaigns targeting the American people by foreign governments through proxy news sites, social media personas and other means, as documented by the U.S. State Department,” AMA CEO James Madara, MD, wrote. “Your vigilance will provide significant lift to efforts by leading health care organizations to overcome vaccine hesitancy and promote widespread vaccine acceptance at a moment when vaccinations are critical.”

Physicians will have their work cut out for them as they face real fears – unfounded or not – about vaccine side effects and safety. Folks in Sedgwick County leery about getting the vaccine said they were most concerned about long-term side effects (61%), safety (51%), and that the risks of the vaccine outweighed the benefits (38%).

Dr. Crook

More than 30% of residents also felt the vaccine would not be effective. To a lesser degree, many people worried they might be allergic to it or couldn’t afford it, and nearly 20% of people surveyed suspected the vaccine would give them COVID-19. Just over 10% of the population in Sedgwick County said it would refrain due to personal, religious, moral or ethical reasons, and another 10% cited a lack of access to a health care provider.

“A lot of people are still sick from COVID and are dying from COVID – so you have to ask yourself, do you want to take your chances with the COVID-19 vaccine or the infection?” said Diana Crook, MD, with Lakepoint Family Physicians. “I really try to educate my patients. COVID is not an innocuous bug. It is dangerous. If I can take it, you can take it. We all need to take our chances with it – not with the infection.”

10 tips for talking with patients

The AMA provides some tips to help patients move from vaccine hesitancy to vaccine acceptance.

  • Understand your patients’ concerns – Is it coming from a cultural or other world view?
  • Ask why patient is hesitant – It is a less judgmental way to find out what they may be thinking.
  • Counter any misinformation
  • Know you are the most trusted information source
  • Tell patients they need to get the vaccine – Adult patients say the second biggest reason they don’t get an immunization is a “doctor hasn’t told me I need it,” according to a 2008 study in the American Journal of Medicine.
  • Tailor your message – Focus the discussion on how getting a vaccine can help protect a loved one such as a grand-parent, a child or someone who is immunocompromised.
  • Address patients’ fears about side effects
  • Prepare your staff to answer questions – Visit for COVID-19 vaccine script.
  • Show your vaccination pride – Wear a button or sticker showing you received your COVID-19 shot, reinforcing to people the vaccine is safe and you trust in it.
  • Tell stories to make impact – Share stories that illustrate why the vaccine is important.