Casey, York officials debunk COVID-19 vaccine myths, encourage inoculations

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
A COVID-19 vaccination site is set up at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia earlier this month. The clinic opened to help provide second doses.

As supplies of COVID-19 vaccines slowly but surely become available across Pennsylvania, Sen. Bob Casey teamed with local officials Friday to ease concerns about the vaccine.

The Democrat hosted a virtual news conference Friday during which a panel of experts, including York City's police commissioner and its health bureau director, discussed their experiences with the COVID-19 vaccine in an effort to encourage people to get the shots. 

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that about 1 in 3 Americans say they definitely or probably won't get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a new poll. Experts said that's discouraging news if the U.S. hopes to achieve herd immunity and vanquish the outbreak.

The survey found that while 67% of Americans plan to get vaccinated or have already done so, 15% are certain they won't and 17% say probably not. Many expressed doubts about the vaccine's safety and effectiveness.

The poll suggested that substantial skepticism persisted more than a month and a half into a U.S. vaccination drive that has encountered few if any serious side effects. Resistance was found to run higher among younger people, people without college degrees, Black Americans and Republicans.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's leading infectious-disease scientist, has estimated that somewhere between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population needs to get inoculated to stop the scourge that has killed nearly half a million Americans. More recently, he said the spread of more contagious variants of the virus increases the need for more people to get their shots.

More:Friday update: Three new deaths linked to COVID-19 in York County

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There were four new deaths attributed to COVID-19 Saturday in York County, bringing the total to 707 since the pandemic began, the state Department of Health reported. Additionally, the state reported 209 new cases in the county, increasing the total to 35,185 by Sunday morning.

'Representing the consumer': Pennsylvania is still in phase 1A of its vaccine distribution plan, in which health care workers, state residents older than 65, people living in long-term care facilities and people with certain serious medical issues can get the vaccine. 

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Oralia Garcia-Dominic, research analyst for the nonprofit health care company Highmark, said she estimates the general public will have access to the vaccine between April and July. She said other medical companies are still working on different vaccines, which should help increase supply. 

"The good news is there should be plenty in stock," Garcia-Dominic said. 

York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow said he recently received the Moderna vaccine and felt no negative side effects. He said when he got the opportunity to get the vaccine he "wanted to jump in with both feet" to show the community it was safe. 

"I'm representing the consumer," Muldrow said. "I'm representing the people on the other side."

Muldrow said he has noticed more people becoming willing to get the vaccine as more experts weigh in on its safety. 

Bolanle Limann, chief medical officer with Harrisburg's Hamilton Health Center, said during the news conference that the main concerns about the vaccines are the accuracy and the speed at which they were approved. She said both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines underwent large clinical trials testing tens of thousands of patients from various backgrounds, and both are more than 90% effective. 

Limann also debunked several false rumors about the vaccine. She said neither vaccine contains any animal products or heavy metals, and neither impacts the recipient's DNA. 

Dr. Matthew Howie, medical director for the York City Bureau of Health, said he continues to hear concerns about the vaccine in York City, and he clarified that getting the vaccine is optional, not mandated.

He said officials can work to reduce concerns by continuing to share clear information with their communities to help residents make an informed decision. 

"The community knows us, and we know our community," Howie said. 

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.