North Country COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is not a political issue, experts say


WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — As COVID-19 vaccination rates are beginning to flatline across the North Country, many are discussing the idea of vaccine hesitancy.

Recent data released by the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College in partnership with Syracuse University reported that nearly one quarter of North Country adults are hesitant to receive the vaccine.

Although not the majority, Jefferson Community College Center for Community Studies Research Director Joel LaLone said this percentage plays a role in how the North Country will move forward.

“That remaining 23 to 24%, that if we are to reach the herd immunity, then there has to be some decisions made amongst that 24% to actually get vaccinated.”

After questioning over 800 adults in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence County, the study led by LaLone and Epidemiologist from Syracuse University David Larsen, presented that vaccine hesitancy in the North Country is not a political issue.

Factors such as fears of safety and lack of trust in government play a much larger role in such hesitancy.

“The big thing is it’s not a partisan issue. It’s not a political issue to vaccinate. We need to make sure that we don’t frame it as such,” stated Larsen. “It’s people that have concerns about the necessity, the safety and the effectiveness, and that’s what we need to address. It’s not trying to make this a political fight.”

But what caused this hesitancy? LaLone claimed that this is due to distrust in governmental and higher standing public health figures.

“What drives those fears of safety and fears of effectiveness in the North country is a distrust of government in general and distrust, at times, of agencies and formal groups, at least in the opinions of North country residents, that tell them what to do.”

How to combat this hesitancy? LaLone and Larsen both focused on an educational methods, instead of incentives or restrictions, on a local level to gain back the public’s trust.

“We would hope that this data would be one of many data points that are available to citizens right now to recognize that the backed vaccine is safe, effective, necessary, and it really is, the social norm,” stated LaLone.

Larsen added, ” the vaccine is more effective than anybody dreamt it would be; it’s beyond our wildest dreams effective and it’s the fastest way we can get our lives back.”

Additional questions asked in the study and its findings are included below.

Getting the COVID vaccine is riskier to my health than actually getting COVID17%71%
COVID-19 is worse than the flu67%22%
I am not comfortable eating inside local restaurants right now28%66%
Elementary school kids should be in school five days a week in my community right now63%24%
Pre-K and elementary school kids should have stayed open throughout the entire pandemic29%61%
Face masks or coverings should be required for all persons everywhere in public indoor spaces, excluding infants and persons who are not able to wear masks56%36%
The COVID vaccine was approved so quickly that I do not trust its safety32%55%
Pre-K and elementary schools should have never closed 35%54%
The effectiveness and importance of social distancing of at least 6 feet has been exaggerated and too much of a big deal has been made out of this40%53%
I plan to continue wearing a mask when in public after normal business, school and social activities in our community full open back up53%38%

As previously reported, Dr. David Larsen addressed how, along with vaccines, that COVID-19 wastewater testing will be a proactive way in preventing the spread of the virus in the North Country this summer. The full interview can be watched in the player below.

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