Doctors, state health officials address vaccine hesitancy

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When the COVID vaccine distribution started in New Mexico, plenty of people rushed out to get their first dose. However, other people were more hesitant to sign up.

In light of the recent pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, a UNM doctor and professor of internal medicine said the announcement should offer some reassurance.

“The truth is, people should feel good about this announcement. It means that’s the government is really, really watching the safety of these vaccines very carefully. If there’s any question at all, even a little question of this, where six people out of 6.7 million have a side effect they’re willing to stop and say ‘Hey, let’s take a look and make sure that this vaccine is really, really safe,’” said Dr. Melissa Martinez.

Dr. Martinez said vaccines were initially tested in several thousand people. Now millions of people have received it, so it’s possible that people could see even more adverse side effects.

Most side effects are identified around six weeks after the vaccine has been given, but how does the COVID vaccine compare to other vaccines such as the flu vaccine?

“We know that there’s no such thing as any vaccine being a hundred percent safe all the time. But what we know is that the risk of getting the vaccine are much lower than the risk of getting the disease,” Dr. Martinez said. “We know for example that flu shots occasionally cause people to have adverse reactions that we don’t want them to have and so far, it doesn’t look, for the most part like COVID vaccines cause any more adverse reactions than say the flu shot that we’re all used to getting.”

The State Health Department said they’re still offering the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, and said it’s still too soon to tell whether more New Mexicans will decide to refuse those shots. Up until this point, an NMDOH spokesperson said vaccine hesitancy has decreased in New Mexico.

“I think folks took a look around and began to see their friends, neighbors and community members getting vaccinated safely, and they also saw that it had a market impact on our state’s case count and death rate, both of which have plummeted since vaccines arrived,” said NMDOH spokesperson Matt Bieber.

In order to address fears and concerns, Bieber said NMDOH will continue to host town halls to give people an opportunity to ask questions.

“It’s not a chance for us to indoctrinate somebody,” Beiber said. “It’s a chance for them to come with their questions, concerns and voice them. Here’s what I heard, here’s what I’m worried about, here’s what I’m wondering. When folks have the opportunity to ask the questions and be heard with respect and then learn good, vetted, credible information from experts—we then see registration rates spike.”

To watch the latest statewide town hall hosted by Somos Un Pueblo Unidos, click here.

To watch a previous townhall for the Black and African American community, click here.

Click here for more information about upcoming town halls.