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Why Are Nevadans So Afraid Of The Vaccine?


It’s been several months since people started getting vaccines. Nevada is ranked near the bottom when it comes to people fully vaccinated.

Nevada is ranked 38th, with about 28 percent of the state fully vaccinated. The number with at least one shot is about 39 percent, but there have been problems getting people to get their second shot.

In the state’s two most populated counties, the rate of full vaccination is higher: 42 percent in Washoe County; 36 percent in Clark County.

“You can’t think of yourself as an individual when it comes to infectious disease,” said epidemiologist Brian Labus from UNLV’s School of Public Health, “Everything you do affects the people around you. We go through these things as a community.”

He compared the problem to breaking a link in the chain. Labus said all the links need to break to get back to normal life.

“Things are getting better but in order for us to have what is called herd immunity, which is basically enough immunity at the community level that the virus can’t spread very easily, we have to be at 70%  or higher of population protected,” he said.

He also noted that one shot is not complete protection. People need to be fully protected so the spread of the disease can be stopped.

One of the biggest concerns from people in the community is that the vaccine has been tested enough and hasn’t gone through the proper process for safety. Labus disagreed.

“The vaccine has been tested. It did go through a clinical trial. There is an expedited approval process when there is an emergency like this,” he said.

Plus, he pointed out that more than 100 million doses have been administrated with only very rare side effects reported and those side effects are much rarer than getting infected with COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill or dying from the virus.

One of the biggest hurdles in getting the vaccine into the arms of certain communities is the fear of the government.

Cecia Alvarado is the executive director of Mi Familia Vota, a group that works with the Latino community on a number of issues.

She said part of the reason Latino communities have been reluctant to get the vaccine is a feeling of not being part of the community and having a mistrust of government agencies.

“It starts with a narrative. It starts with understanding that the Latino community has distrust in government,” she said.

Clark County launched a campaign called “Esta En Tus Manos” or It’s In Your Hands in an effort to educate the Latino community about the virus and mitigation efforts. Now, that campaign is being used to get people to get the jab.

Alvarado said her group is working with Clark County to set up clinics and push out the vaccine message through trusted messengers. This past weekend they held a clinic on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday.

“Saturday morning our vaccine site had a line wrapped around the building that’s the effects of when the community feels, ‘that we’re here, we’re going to talk to you, you’re part of this, this is also for you, regardless of your immigration status,” she said.

Now, Mi Familia Vota is taking it a step further. It will now be knocking on doors to talk directly to people to get around barriers like internet connectivity and language.

“You’re going to see a change because… when you engage the Latino community they respond,” she said.

The message of being part of the community and using that as a way to motivate people to get vaccinated can be tricky said Anjala Krishen, UNLV professor in marketing and international business.

“We can’t use that term loosely. Either community is everyone in the U.S., we are all Americans, regardless of our skin tone or it’s certain different groups,” she said, “So, either you part of a community that is America and Americans.”

She said that is the difficult thing of loosely using the word “community,” but in reality, we’re not talking about all Americans

Krishen also noted that people usually respond better to persuasive messaging about themselves and not about how they could be helping someone else by getting vaccinated.

“Unfortunately, people are not going to be as motivated when we’re talking about other people that is a difficult thing,” she said.

Instead, she thinks the argument for vaccines should be framed in a way that people can take personally, for example, if they do get sick it will hurt their family and cost them a lot of money.

“I think definitely having that fear driver and saying, ‘This is not just for other people this is because you flat out can’t afford this. This is going to break the bank,’” she said.

She also said it is important for people who have had the virus to talk about the health impacts they have suffered.

Jonathan Gedde knows the impacts all too well. He is head of the Nevada Mortgage Lenders Association, but in December he was diagnosed with COVID-19. He said it started out with fever and fatigue, but after a few days, it became much worse.

“Eventually, I developed a little bit of a cough, and then about four or five days in, I started coughing up blood,” he said, “And that continued for the next six weeks, coughing up blood. Obviously, that’s a pretty scary thing to go through.”

Gedde spent two days in the hospital. He said the fatigue was the worst part of it. He would spend some days sleeping for hours with no energy to do anything else.

Now, Gedde has developed auto-immune symptoms, including blurred vision and ongoing fatigue. His doctors are not sure if the symptoms were triggered by COVID-19, or if he already had the problems, but the virus just activated them.

He admits that before he became ill, he had the mindset that he was young and healthy and COVID wouldn’t really impact him, but it did and he got very, very sick.

“The impacts of the vaccine are you might have a sore arm. You might feel a little bit under the weather for 24 hours or so,” he said, “These things are not comparable in the slightest. My experience was COVID was quite serious and really disrupted my life, really changed my health to a drastic extent.”

Brian Labus, assistant professor, UNLV School of Public Health; Jonathan Gedde, chair, Nevada Mortgage Lenders Association; Cecia Alvarado, executive director, Mi Familia Vota; Anjala Krishen, UNLV professor, Marketing and International Business

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.