Dr. Patricia Doyle’s patients come from a wide swath of western Maine, north of Sugarloaf and west of Moosehead Lake, which stretches to the Canadian border.
With the exception of some of the oldest and most vulnerable, most did not rush to get the COVID-19 vaccine when they became eligible, she said.
But because her practice, the Jackman Community Health Center, is relatively small, she and others regularly do outreach activities – personal calls where they can connect with people away from the noise of cable TV or Facebook, to answer questions and allay fears.
“We still have a lot of ‘no’s,’ but the most common thing we hear from people is that they’re taking a wait-and-see approach,” Doyle said. “They say, ‘I’ll get back to you when I’m ready.’ It is therefore more hesitation than categorical no. And people come back to us. “
Doyle and other doctors across the state hope to extend that reach beyond their own practices. They have partnered in an educational effort with the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund, the Maine Public Health Association and the Maine Community Action Partnership, which will feature short videos promoted on social media talking about the benefits of vaccinations.
They will also be hosting a virtual COVID-19 vaccine forum called “Ask Maine Doctors,” at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Those interested in participating can Sign up online.
The campaign is designed to reach Mainers who, for whatever reason, have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19. Although Maine’s vaccination rate is the highest of any state, vaccinations have leveled off in recent weeks and there are signs that younger people may be more hesitant or reluctant, which could prolong the pandemic.
In Somerset County, where most of Doyle’s patients reside, the vaccination rate is around 35%, which is well below the state average. She said the biggest hesitation she heard was about side effects, although they were extremely rare in the nearly six months of using the vaccines.
“I think people are waiting to see if any problems are going to happen to people who get the vaccine,” she said, adding that the brief pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after cases of rare but serious blood clots were detected has been detected. reduce public confidence.
Dr Noah Nesin, chief medical officer for Penobscot County health care in Bangor, who will also attend Tuesday’s forum, said that as the vaccination effort changes, messaging becomes even more critical.
“We have mostly gone through the enthusiasts and the volunteers and we are now trying to reach the people who hesitate,” he said. “I think it’s really important that we honor people’s free will and accept them where they are and that we just provide good information. What I share is that the risks of getting infected are much higher than the risks of getting the vaccine. Not just the risk to yourself and the people you come in contact with, but the risk to people around the world if we can’t handle this pandemic and more variants emerge and become more virulent or resistant to vaccines. “
The reasons people don’t want the vaccine or want to wait vary, but studies have shown that the best sources of information for these people aren’t politicians or celebrities, they’re people they have a relationship with. trust. Nesin said politically motivated sentiments and misinformation are always difficult to navigate.
“I still hear a lot of misinformation going around,” he said. “And people ask these questions seriously, so we have to answer them as seriously.”
As the immunization effort continues to evolve, the final piece might be to deliver vaccines directly to primary care offices. To date, most doctors’ offices have not received many doses of vaccine because they cannot handle a large volume of vaccine in a short time or because they do not have cold storage capabilities. required for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. This is why the state has given priority to large practices, hospitals and mass sites, as well as pharmacies.
But primary care physicians have always been the primary link between vaccinations and patients, and they will soon be in heavy demand to help close the gap.