As of today, more than 40 percent of U.S. adults are “fully” inoculated against COVID-19, while more than 56 percent have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Every single adult in the U.S. has been eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine—free of charge!—since April 19, a little more than four months after the first dose was given to a New York-based nurse in December 2020. The vaccine rollout has been a bewildering domestic success after an agonizing year of isolation, loss, and horror.
Despite their efficacy and availability, the rate of COVID vaccinations is slowing down, and panic is beginning to set in over whether enough people will get the vaccine—especially as some vocally commit to never getting it. It can be incredibly frustrating to deal with a loved one, especially someone vulnerable, who is letting vaccine hesitancy, anxiety, or misinformation rule their decision-making. It’s hard to know what to say or how to react without entrenching them even further into their decision, driving them into full anti-vaxx territory.
But just because people express doubts about the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t mean they’ve made their minds up once and for all. VICE polled its readers who were initially hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine to see what held them back, and ask what they’d say to people who are still on the fence about getting the jab. Over 300 people responded, with more than half saying that fears about long term side effects from the vaccine were what kept them from signing up as early as possible. Pregnancy, nursing, past adverse vaccine reactions, miscarriages and comorbidities like cancer all came into play for individuals surveyed; so did misinformation, lack of appointment availability, and skepticism of government initiatives.
After weighing those concerns against the potential of missing out on travel, socializing, and seeing vulnerable loved ones, and considering the fact that vaccines make everyone safer, every respondent chose to get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Here are their stories, as well as what they would say to people who are still on the fence.
I'm in the military and there are dozens of people I know still not willing to get it within our ranks and it's crazy that they already got 10+ immunizations throughout their time in, but refuse to get this one. Doctors recommended it, scientists made it... It's made to keep you safe but most importantly, everyone around you who may not have the greatest immune system. Doing this will get life back to normal faster, I let peer pressure make me hesitant at first but honestly I care more about the safety of my fiancé and daughter than what other people think.
- Andy, 25, “worried about the possible side effects in both short term and long term. I also don’t believe much of what most news outlets say (excluding VICE).”
My brother had an allergic reaction to the pertussis vaccine as an infant, had severe brain damage and ended up dying in his early teens due to being immunocompromised. I was born after him, so I skipped a few vaccines and I never got a flu shot.
I cried every day since the vaccine was made available to my age group, and even before that, because every conversation centered around whether I had had the vaccine yet, or couldn’t I just not wait to get it? It broke me. I couldn’t handle it emotionally anymore, being unsure and being scared. I would either have horrible side effects or I wouldn’t. But I definitely don’t want COVID. It’s complicated—now that I’ve had my first dose and seem fine, I have an enormous amount of survivor’s guilt. Why am I okay when he didn’t get to be?
Still, I’ve told people to get it from the beginning. I’m all on board. I just worried for myself personally because of my genetics. It’s just a really scary time—health-wise, politics-wise, information-wise. It’s so hard to figure out what’s right. But when it comes to risking opening yourself up to a terrible disease and passing it along to your loved ones, it’s “shot girl summer” time.
- Rachel, 31
As Black children, my mom raised my sister and I not to trust the government's efforts to give out free medicine, as the history with Big Pharma experimenting on black people like lab rats made her uneasy. We've never had a flu shot in our lives.
After a few family members close to my mother, in countries too poor to fight COVID, let alone have a vaccine, died, she changed her mind on the COVID vaccine and ended up encouraging me to get it as well. Once you see the devastation this disease leaves in its wake, you need to stop being selfish and take the vaccine.
- Percy, 20, didn’t trust the messaging from the media around COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine
I realized it’s not 1919, science has come a long way since the flu pandemic, we can find solutions faster. I’m visiting family soon (haven’t been home since before the pandemic), my brother has cerebral palsy, and when I learned the vaccine helps protect others—it was no question.
- Waseem, 29, initially worried about long term side effects
Maybe opting out of the vaccine would have been an option if COVID had been handled better from the jump, but this is the only viable way out of this now. Your hesitancy is valid. As a person who has defied medical odds and had shitty reactions (which I ultimately survived) to multiple vaccines and a serious allergy to basic antibiotics, I understand your hesitancy. But ultimately: you’ve likely already survived many vaccines in your lifetime. This is literally the same.
- Emma, previously “had very intense allergic reactions to vaccines and even antibiotics. I am always afraid to take medicine.”
What changed my mind was “If everyone gets it and gets fucked up from it... it will still suck to be the only one normal.”
- Adri, initially worried about short and long term side effects, did not trust messaging from the government and the media around COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine
I felt pressured. Everyone around me was getting it. My family and my girlfriend's family, everyone single person I have close contact with, received their shots and were constantly criticizing anyone who would question the vaccine's efficacy. I didn't want to be deemed as yet another misinformed anti-vaxxer fueled by rumors and bad science. I'm not an anti-vaxxer in any way, but this vaccine's swift rollout did make me feel a bit uneasy as to what long term effects it may have.
- Amirilis, 26, remains worried about long term side effects
I work with disabled students, I did it so that they hopefully wouldn’t have to. If you're overall healthy, do it. That way, our children don’t have to keep living like this.
- Nataly, 21, initially worried about long term side effects
I am terrified of needles. This may seem small to those who aren't afraid, but this was a huge hurdle for me to jump over. I chose to trust science, even though science meant conquering a huge fear. Easiest shot I have ever gotten and I didn't even feel the needle. Short term inconvenience for long term benefits and a return to normalcy.
- Kameron, 35
Everyone I knew was getting COVID or even dying from it. I wanted to wait until about a year (at least) after the vaccine was available before getting it, but my chances of catching COVID myself during that time would have been very high. I would rather get the vaccine now than get COVID. I didn’t trust the government and the media about it, so I went with my gut and made sure I got the vaccine I felt is the safest: Pfizer. It’s the one that was offered to our government and I figured they wouldn’t take anything that could harm them. They may not care about us, but they care about themselves.
- Monica, 34, initially worried about long term side effects
Getting the vaccine feels like a giant weight being lifted off your shoulders, you’ll feel much freer and optimistic.
- Petar, 18, initially worried about long term side effects
I didn’t want to risk passing COVID to my loved ones who would be at risk, simply to satisfy my misgivings, when something that has been proven to reduce the threat of COVID is available. Ask yourself if saying no to the vaccine is worth your child’s life, your grandparent’s life— decide who you’re willing to see die because you didn’t want to get a shot.
- Greg, 37, initially worried about “the lack of long term research and study of mRNA vaccines and their side effects”
I have not faced any sickness in over 2 years and the thought of how inconvenient contracting COVID-19 would be was the main motivation factor. The vaccine was free and easy to get. The side effects of a vaccine do not worry me. I smoked cigarettes for 5+ years and consume/have consumed far too many questionable substances to ever say “I don’t feel comfortable putting a random chemical cocktail in my body.” What it comes down to, is I want to travel and live my life care fuckin’ free. Don’t be a pussy, let’s end this fucking pandemic so we can all read about something else in the headlines and be social while we’re in our god damn prime.
- Kyle, 27, took “relatively few precautions throughout the pandemic” but didn’t get COVID
As a young, healthy college student, missing a weekend of fun due to vaccine side effects can be a bummer, but it means literally nothing in comparison to the countless lives lost. Buckle up, get ready to lay in bed and watch Netflix for a day or two, and dream of brighter days ahead in a post-COVID world.
- Meaghan, 19, didn't trust the messaging from the media around COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine
What side of history do you want to be on? I choose to trust medical science. No side affect—long term or short—is worth allowing this virus to not only survive, but mutate and thrive. If you claim to love your country and family, you’ll get vaccinated.
- Stephani, 30, initially worried about long term side effects
Having COVID was a terrible experience, and that the vaccine side effects were nothing in comparison. I want [hesitant people] to know it is to keep everyone safe. I understand why it’s such a threat to our population. I’m healthy and young and it completely destroyed me.
- Blake, 28, previously contracted COVID-19 and was concerned about short term side effects
I was hesitant for the same reason I wanted the vaccine—to protect my child and I. I waited for more research, which showed that the good certainly outweighs the risks, for both of us. This personal decision is never just about yourself.
- Kate, 30, initially worried as “a new, nursing mom”
If people refused to get vaccinated in the past, we wouldn’t be here today.
- Bryan, 37, initially worried about long term side effects
You may think this virus is over-dramatized and it'll never happen to you or you don't know anyone it's actually affected worse than the flu. I tested positive last year, 100 percent asymptomatic throughout my whole infection, so I figured it was a bunch of bull****. Once I had a very close young friend almost die from it, that's when I was more concerned. Still didn't want to get vaccinated because I was concerned for the side effects and the unknown.
Then, it just came to me, like: Hey. I'm over this pandemic. I want life to be normal. I want to see my grandma. I want to have my social life back. I want to smile at people and they actually see it. I decided to say screw it, get the vaccine. If this was really some sort of crazy conspiracy like you read online about the U.S. government and the people, why is the entire world vaccinating? Do it, get the vaccine. Please, let's get back to normalcy. Give me my life back.
- Faith, 28, didn’t trust the messaging from the media around COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine
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