Combating the Myths: doctors address vaccine concerns, healthcare worker shares personal reason for getting it

An NBC15 Special Report
Published: Feb. 15, 2021 at 9:30 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 15, 2021 at 10:31 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - While millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered across the United States, there are many individuals passing on their opportunity to get a shot.

Distrust and misinformation surrounding vaccines is nothing new to doctors across the world and was anticipated as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout began.

Becky Sturdevant is just one Wisconsinite who made the choice to get inoculated. To understand why, she says you’d have to look back when the pandemic first hit Dane County in February of 2020.

From that moment forth, her work at UW Health Madison as a respiratory therapist became especially important and especially hard.

“We’ve experienced a lot more sad than you know the recovery that we’re usually used to seeing and helping people get better. It’s just a very long road,” says Sturdevant.

As a wife and mother, she couldn’t just leave those feelings at the hospital door. “You have a worry about, are you bringing this home to your family everyday?”

Becky Sturdevant works with COVID patients at UW Health Madison
Becky Sturdevant works with COVID patients at UW Health Madison(UW Health)

By June of 2020, the impact of the virus on her professional life, became more personal than ever. “She was 75, but you would never guess it. She was full of energy and life,” says Sturdevant.

Becky’s mother, Bonnie, tested positive for COVID-19 while undergoing dialysis. “We knew it was a long shot for her to recover,” says Sturdevant.

Bonnie fought for her life for two weeks in the hospital. “She passed away on June 12th,” says Sturdevant.

Becky Sturdevant's parents, Ed & Bonnie
Becky Sturdevant's parents, Ed & Bonnie(Becky Sturdevant)

Unfortunately, her mother’s death was not the only Becky had to mourn in the months to follow. “There’s been some patients that have passed alone and I’ve been there. So I’ve just tried to stay with them” says Sturdevant.

Come December, Becky was faced with a choice when the first shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine arrived at UW Health in Madison. “At first I was cautious,” says Sturdevant.

She says her choice to get vaccinated was ultimately made with her mom in mind. “Oh I burst into tears the first dose that I got. I wore my mom’s shirt that day and just could feel her there with me,” says Sturdevant.

Becky knows others may not make that same choice.

A recent study by Smith Gieger, a media research and consulting firm, surveyed 3,000 news consumers across the nation, ages 18-64. 6 in 10 people in the survey say they “probably” or “definitely” will get the vaccine.

  • 32% definitely will
  • 28% probably will
  • 18% not sure
  • 10% probably will not
  • 13% definitely will not
6 in 10 Americans plan to get the vaccine, according to study.
6 in 10 Americans plan to get the vaccine, according to study.(Smith Gieger)

NBC15 focused in on the 13% who said they definitely will not get vaccinated. The top 4 major concerns attributed to this choice are:

  • Don’t think it will be safe
  • Concerned about ingredients
  • Don’t think it will be effective
  • Don’t trust the testing process
Biggest reasons not to get vaccinated
Biggest reasons not to get vaccinated(Smith Gieger)

“I think it’s actually natural to be a little bit hesitant whenever someone is talking about giving you something new,” says Dr. Shirley, the Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Unity Point Health Meriter.

26% of survey participants say they don’t think it’s safe and 15% don’t trust the testing process, namely the speed in which the vaccines were developed.

“It’s really more about completion of that list than it is about fast or slow, because you could have gone slower and not checked all the boxes,” says Dr. Matt Anderson, Primary Care Senior Medical Director at UW Health Madison.

To gain FDA approval, vaccines have to go through three phases of clinical trials. Those trials test to see if the shots are safe and effective, as well as if the benefits outweigh any risks.

“This has been tested in 44,000 individuals, each vaccine or so in the trials and then you’re talking about millions of people now having received vaccines otherwise. So, when you look at the checked boxes that need to occur for a typical vaccine, these vaccines checked every single one of those boxes,” says Dr. Anderson.

Shots like those produced by Moderna and Pfizer are also different than, say, a flu vaccine. These are called mRNA vaccines.

“These mRNA vaccines are very different. They’re able to be synthesized and help to teach our bodies how to do this in a much faster fashion. So that technology that had been in the works for over a decade is now able to be leveraged in this unique environment to be able to more rapidly upscale the production,” says Dr. Anderson.

Another worry, sited by 19% of study participants, are the ingredients of the vaccine.

“The basics are pretty consistent with prior vaccines, but if anything the mRNA might be paired down as far as how long the list of ingredients is,” says Dr. Shirley.

“The ingredients list are posted, they’re available publicly. They’re on the CDC, they’re on the drug manufacturer’s websites,” says Dr. Anderson.

Both Dr. Anderson and Dr. Shirley say it comes down to the vaccine’s effectiveness and assessing its ability to better protect one person, one shot at a time.

“The first rule of medicine, remember, is do no harm and we’re not going to recommend something that we think is going to be harmful to patients. We’re always look at cost-benefit analysis and what those risks are,” says Dr. Anderson.

“You can picture a vulnerable person or a relative, you getting the vaccine is more than just you, it helps other people too,” says Dr. Shirley.

Becky Sturdevant is just one person who says she’s glad she took the opportunity to get vaccinated and believes her late mother would have made the same decision.

Becky got her second vaccine dose in early January of 2021. She feels the vaccine is symbolic of moving forward.

“Be able to see our families, give them hugs. Your kids can have sleepovers again, go back to school and see a smiling face. I think this is the right step forward,” says Sturdevant.

Becky is now hoping her 13-year-old daughter can get the vaccine soon, so she can give her grandfather a hug for the first time in more than a year.

The NBC15 team is answering your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Send them to us and we’ll get an answer from a medical professional.

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