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Will FDA approval change the minds of Austin's unvaccinated?

Local health officials are hoping FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine will change the minds of those vaccine hesitant. (Shutterstock)

For some of the 39% of the U.S.'s unvaccinated population, FDA approval stood in the way of their trust of the COVID-19 vaccine, along with other points of contention. But since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration officially approved Pfizer on Monday, health officials are hoping it will be the final push to get people vaccinated.

Sitting at Stage 5 of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines for about a month, the resurgence of COVID cases and hospitalizations in Austin isn't declining. As each week goes by, local health officials are pleading for the remaining 34% of Austinites to get vaccinated. Currently, almost all hospital admissions are coming from unvaccinated individuals, according to APH. "We have full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, here's hoping that those that were hesitant to be vaccinated will now go forward and get vaccinated to help with ending this pandemic," said Dr. Desmar Walkes, APH health authority.

Will the FDA approval change the minds of the unvaccinated?

Only time will tell. But, we know that the unvaccinated are unlikely to change their mind. According to a recent poll, 80% of unvaccinated American adults said they probably or definitely will not receive the vaccine.

Judith Moreno, a 26-year-old Austinite who is in between waitressing and working for UPS, is not vaccinated. Moreno said she never went into quarantine—she was always working a job that was considered "essential"—and has never tested positive for the virus.

Moreno said she's glad to hear the news of the approval but still doesn't have any plans to get vaccinated.

"I just haven't gotten sick and I've been around people who have been sick and I've taken tests and tests and tests," Moreno said. "I feel like my body isn't in need of the vaccine—my immune system is pretty good because it's kept me from getting sick until now."

Moreno said she has family members, like her mother and grandmother, who are vaccinated and want her to get vaccinated. But Moreno says she doesn't feel like she's putting people in danger by abstaining because she mostly just maintains a routine from work to home.

"I believe that it's a real virus but I just haven't been 100% convinced to take the vaccine," Moreno said. "I'm very selfish but it's survival of the fittest out here right now. I'm religious so like if God's gonna take you, God's gonna take you regardless of whether you're vaccinated or not."

Reasons for not getting the vaccine

Aside from feeling that she is healthy enough to refrain, Moreno said she worries that the vaccine might have been rushed and could negatively impact her fertility down the line. Austin City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes told Travis county commissioners and Austin city council on Tuesday she is hearing similar concerns from members of the community.

To address these concerns, Austin Public Health has plans to include messaging about the FDA approval in its vaccine campaigns. "We want people to know in simple layman's terms what it means about the FDA approval and the safety and efficacy of those vaccines," APH Directory Adrienne Stirrup said on Tuesday.

Maram Museitif, a public health practitioner who sits on the board for Central Health, said she's heard plenty of different reasons people are reluctant to get poked, including fertility health and fear over long-term effects, inability to take off work to cope with potential symptoms, language barriers, lack of insurance and a rapid spread of misinformation.

Working at Central Health, which offers medical health plans to underserved communities, Museitif said she believes the best way to tackle those issues is to engage others in empathetic conversation.

"We're trying in the health arena to meet people where they are, so we need to really engage them, understand why you are hesitant to receive it," Museitif said. "We cannot assume everyone knows. But we have to build trust, and building trust takes a lot of time and effort and resources. There are a lot of barriers; It's going to take an army."


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