MINOT, N.D. — Here's some good news amid the on-going COVID-19 pandemic: "A shrinking percentage of Americans are expressing reluctance to get a COVID-19 vaccine," the Wall Street Journal reports. That finding is based on a U.S. Census survey of some 80,000 Americans conducted between March 3-15.
In North Dakota, however, these numbers don't look so good.
Our vaccine rollout, to this point, has gone swimmingly. North Dakota has consistently been a national leader in terms of distributing the shots. We're now at a point where every single resident of the state is 16 years of age or older is eligible for the shot.
Yet, according to the Census survey, reluctance to getting the vaccine has increased sharply.
A shrinking percentage of Americans are expressing reluctance to get a Covid-19 vaccine: 17%, down from 22% in January. Vaccine hesitancy is declining in most states. https://t.co/J4vzluVzFb pic.twitter.com/tnRZ96CJNR— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) March 30, 2021
The graphs show the trend for people who say they "probably" or "definitely" won't get vaccinated. The trend for North Dakota is sharply upward.
That's not a good look for our state.
In fact, this growing public skepticism of the vaccine among North Dakotans may, in a perverse sort of way, explain why our state can be among the first to offer the vaccine to pretty much everybody.
Health care professionals and state officials I've spoken to have said that they've been able to vaccinate many people who wanted the shot quickly, but they're also aware of a lot of people who are turning it down.
They're afraid the road ahead may be a bit bumpier, as we'll have to start persuading people who view the vaccine as unnecessary or risky.
Gov. Doug Burgum and his administration, and more importantly, the health care workers and other professionals around the state who have been on the front line administering the shots, have done an admirable job putting vaccines in arms so far. According to the state Department of Health's latest data, nearly 40% of North Dakotans have had at least one vaccine shot, and over 25% are fully vaccinated.
Those are strong numbers, but they fall well short of the level of vaccination we need to protect our society from the virus adequately.
I suspect vaccinations in North Dakota will continue at a brisk pace for the weeks ahead, but the biggest challenge lies ahead. We're eventually going to have vaccinated everyone who wants the vaccine, and we'll have to start convincing the skeptics.
That process needs to begin now, and it needs to be free of heavy-handed lectures and judgmental diatribes. There are obnoxious anti-vaccine diehards out there, to be sure, and we may never win them over. There are a lot of people, however, whose skepticism is more reasonable.
These vaccines were rushed into production. There's still a lot we don't know about the virus. The side effects of the vaccinations can be rough (the first Moderna shot certainly was tough for me, I'll get my second shot next month).
Those fears don't add up to a justification for rejecting the vaccine, but they're not invalid either. We have to come up with a way to address the concerns so that the people harboring them will ultimately decide to get the vaccine and help protect us all.
That won't be easy in this ugly political environment, where we're all a little too willing to bring out the rhetorical cudgels for anyone we disagree with. Still, the alternative is entrenched opposition to the vaccine, which leaves us all less safe.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.