Vaccine hesitancy could lead to new variants of COVID-19, experts say

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — It’s the day millions have been waiting for: Every Florida resident age 16 and older is now eligible for the vaccine.

But being eligible for the vaccine and getting the vaccine are two very different things.

“I think there’s a little bit of uncertainty about the vaccine,” said Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist with USF Health. “We need to have better messaging.”

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Data shows not enough people want to get the vaccine, making it more difficult to reach herd immunity.

“The more people who were hesitant about it or have less confidence about it is going to drag it out further,” said Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi, an infectious disease expert at UF Health.

Teng said it could be a problem because the virus will continue to mutate over time, causing more strains of it to spread.

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“Every time we’ve had a new variant come up. It’s been more transmissible,” he said.

That could impact everyone, immunized or not. While the vaccines appear to be effective against these variants right now, public health officials are worried that future mutations of the virus may be more resistant to these shots. That means we may have to get in line for another booster sooner, or even a vaccine.

So what can we do right now to change the course?

“Reinforce safety, nudge people along, don’t shame them,” Cherabuddi said.

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Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.