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“It’s like the usual hesitancy on steroids, because the distrust took on a political dimension because of the election last year,” said Johnson, a George Washington University professor. “It was like a perfect storm to have an election in the year of a pandemic.”
Trump, who often minimized the virus’s danger, last Tuesday gave his most explicit endorsement for the national mass vaccination campaign since he left office in January.
“It’s a great vaccine, it’s a safe vaccine and it’s something that works,” he said during an interview on Fox News.
But Trump left office in January without disclosing that he and his wife, Melania, had themselves quietly been vaccinated.
For Christine Miller — the treasurer of the Republican club in Berkeley County, where Martinsburg is located — Trump’s words came too late, because people have already decided.
“It’s a personal choice. People in the rural areas, though, I don’t see them going for it. I see them doing too much research for themselves,” said the 63-year-old, who as a cancer survivor with chronic bronchitis is in a high-risk demographic.
She said she won’t take the shots currently available.
“It’s not worth the risk,” Miller told AFP before a club meeting, saying she was concerned about reports — which experts say are rare — of serious side effects. “I can wait.”
Johnson, the hesitancy expert, said waiting or not getting the vaccine at all carries significant risks for the United States, which has by far the world’s largest absolute death toll and caseload.
“It’s all about herd immunity,” he said, referring to the point when most of a population has acquired defenses against a virus, whether through vaccination or from having survived the disease.
Vaccination campaigns can reach large portions of populations, he added, but success is determined by whether an overwhelming majority of people can be inoculated.
If and when that point is reached in Martinsburg, West Virginia, it will most certainly be without 76-year-old Betty DeHaven, a Republican club supporter.
“They would have to hold me down and force me to take the vaccine,” she told AFP. “I consider that one of my rights, that I can refuse.”
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