Why some people are unvaccinated

I read an opinion piece in the New York Times recently about people in the United States who choose not to get vaccinated against COVID. An organization called Surgo Ventures did a “large-scale Facebook survey” and divided unvaccinated respondents into four groups or personas:

  • Watchful — waiting to see what happens. 8% U.S. and 8% Maine.
  • Cost-conscious — want vaccine but can’t afford the cost (?) or time. 9% U.S. and 6% Maine.
  • System disruptors — feel the healthcare system doesn’t treat them fairly. 4% U.S. and 2% Maine.
  • COVID skeptics — don’t believe there is a threat. 14% U.S. and 10% Maine.

In full disclosure, I am fully vaccinated, but when vaccines first became available, I was in the watchful category. I was glad that I didn’t qualify because I wanted to wait a while to see how things went. When I finally did qualify, I signed up immediately and without reservation. Two weeks out from my second shot, I still didn’t feel comfortable leaving my cozy little bubble at home, but little by little I ventured out and with time have become much more at ease.

I still wear my mask in certain situations and also keep my distance. I especially worry about knowingly coming into contact with someone who is not yet vaccinated. I’m not concerned for myself as much as I am for them. Most of the people I’m apt to spend time with are also vaccinated, so for the most part, it hasn’t been an issue.

Where Maine stands

Maine, where I live, is among the top five states with the highest vaccination rates. The data is based on the percentage of residents 12 and older who are fully vaccinated.

  1. Vermont 58%
  2. Massachusetts 56%
  3. Maine 56%
  4. Connecticut 55%
  5. Rhode Island 53%

A different strategy

For the past several weeks, since vaccines have become available for younger people, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, the Chief Health Improvement Officer at MaineHealth, gained some new insights into why some people have not yet been vaccinated.

She’s been doing several online vaccine presentations with people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, primarily to provide information and answer questions about getting their middle and teenaged children vaccinated. What she discovered is that a fair number of them had not themselves been vaccinated. Many of them were asking basic questions, which she thought was surprising, considering the amount of information that had been put out.

Then it dawned on her why they had so many questions.

It wasn’t their turn until recently to get vaccinated and so, they were not necessarily paying full attention to our messages. All of the background information we were getting out for several months was targeted at older people and healthcare workers. There’s this whole slice of the population under 50 who knew we weren’t targeting them, and we really weren’t.

Dora Anne Mills, MD

Dr. Mills realized that they not only needed a new messaging campaign aimed at people 50 and younger, but they also had to consider the best and easiest ways to make the vaccine available to them. For one thing, many of them have full-time jobs. Older people who are retired generally had no problem signing up for two shots at a vaccine clinic in the middle of the day.

When it comes to working people, however, Dr. Mills says you have to hold clinics evenings and weekends, and you have to go to where they are. Not only where they work, but also where they go on their off-time. So, they began by offering a vaccine clinic at Becky’s Diner in Portland in early June.

Becky's Diner Vaccination Clinic
Vaccination Clinic at Becky’s Diner (Source: Facebook)

We wanted to get the younger people, the fishermen, and the working people who come in and get breakfast in the morning or stop by for coffee. We’re going to breweries — a lot of breweries have reached out to us, as well as music venues. We’re doing the Portland House of Music, we’re doing Thompson’s Point, and a number of concerts around the state, including some at drive-in movie theaters. We’re trying to figure out where people under 50 congregate in the summer in Maine and meet them there.

Dr. Mills
Vaccination Clinic
Vaccination Clinic at Rising Tide Brewery in Portland (Source: Facebook)

They’re also offering some extra incentives. At Becky’s, anyone who got vaccinated also got a $15 gift certificate. At Rising Tide Brewery you get a card offering a discount on a beverage.

The State is also giving out free fishing licenses and Sea Dogs tickets and things like that. There’s no one strategy that will get everybody vaccinated, but if you’re in a place where it’s easy to do, it can be helpful. Such as, you happen to be at a music concert where you can get vaccinated, and by the way, you can also get a free gift certificate to Beans or a Maine fishing license. An important point to remember is that all of these strategies are synergistic. We’re trying to make it easy for people to get vaccinated. We’re there to offer it no matter what. We’re not even taking insurance information.

Dr. Mills

For some people, it’s the perfect opportunity to get vaccinated, but for others, it doesn’t matter how easy you make it or how many incentives you offer. As the Surgo Ventures survey indicated, some of them are COVID skeptics.

Some of these people are convinced there’s no way they’re going to get vaccinated because they think it’s a conspiracy, the pandemic doesn’t exist, or they don’t know anybody with COVID. Talking about it can be hard because they’re often emotionally charged conversations. Sometimes they seem to have their heels dug in as much as we have our heels dug in. I worry, though, that some of these strong beliefs against the vaccine are directly impacting people’s health, including perhaps contributing to our ongoing stubbornly high hospitalizations.

I think it’s also important to realize that polling is showing that at least two-thirds of the people who haven’t been vaccinated yet just need several stars lined up, which we’re trying to do. They might not have driven to a vaccine clinic at Scarborough Downs but if we offer vaccinations at a concert or at their worksite and others are getting vaccinated and there’s also an extra incentive, maybe that’s all they need. Plus, we’re offering the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, so they won’t need a second shot.

Dr. Mills.

Where to get vaccinated in Maine

If you are someone who is interested in getting vaccinated (and maybe receive an extra incentive), the Maine CDC has a long list of vaccine sites in Maine. I’ve included the link below along with a few of the sites Dr. Mills mentioned.

I’m also curious — if you have decided not to be vaccinated, why not?

  • CDC list of COVID-19 Vaccine Sites in Maine
  • June 16 & June 23 MaineHealth is partnering with the Maine Beer Company in Freeport to offer vaccinations from 11 am to 4 pm.
  • July 7 & July 12 MaineHealth is partnering with the Portland House of Music to offer vaccinations from 8 pm to 11 pm.
  • June 17 & June  24 MaineHealth is partnering with Thompson’s Point to offer vaccinations for those attending the Summer Sunset Series concerts on these dates from 4 pm to 8 pm.