SAN ANTONIO – Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and the health crisis doesn’t appear to be coming to an end, with some local doctors blaming vaccine hesitancy.
In the first nine months of the pandemic without vaccines, the death toll in the U.S. was about 200,000 people. A year later, with vaccines, the U.S. now has about 800,000. That’s roughly 600,000 more deaths in the year with vaccines to slow COVID-19.
Some local health officials say vaccine hesitancy is hindering progress.
“The personal choice to not get vaccinated is like a middle finger to society: ‘I don’t care about you enough to do this for the sake of all of us moving forward,’” said Dr. Jared Reading, with the Uvalde County health authority.
Dr. Robert Leverence, chief medical officer of UT Health San Antonio, said, “There’s well over 300 million people in this country, and if 40% of them are vulnerable to the disease, they’re likely going to get it.”
The doctors say if people choose not to get vaccinated, the death toll will continue to rise, new variants will emerge, and the community will remain at risk.
They said vaccines were made available, shutdowns and other restrictions began to be lifted, and people started gathering again, leaving those not vaccinated vulnerable.
The majority of hospitalizations and deaths since vaccines were made available have come from those who are not vaccinated. In Bexar County, nearly 95% of those 18 and up are vaccinated, and only 69% of those 5 and up are vaccinated.
Reverence said he doesn’t understand the vaccine hesitancy because he vividly remembers the struggle of when there was no protection.
“The first nine months -- going into a patient’s room and feeling that you were risking your life to then feeling a little bit OK, back to business, even just a little bit,” he said.
Reading said he also remembers the struggles of getting the vaccines to rural areas like his when they were approved for emergency use. Uvalde County is 53% fully vaccinated.
“We struggled to get this. We wanted this. We had a whole year without it. To see them say ‘No, I don’t want this’ after how hard we fought to get it out here is extremely frustrating,” Reading said.
Both doctors urge everyone to get vaccinated and boosted before gathering for the holidays.