Holland Sentinel: Peters: Federal government has a role to play in combatting vaccine misinformation

GRAND RAPIDS — U.S. Sen. Gary Peters believes the federal government can provide local units with resources to provide educational campaigns on the COVID-19 vaccines, as health officials work to administer as many doses possible to get the U.S. to a post-pandemic state.

Peters Vaccine

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, speaks to media on Monday, May 3, following a tour of the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic at the DeVos Center in downtown Grand Rapids.

As the vaccine rollout has taken place in Michigan and across the U.S., health leaders have run into a challenging issue — less people are receiving the vaccine daily than they were before.

According to NPR, an average of around 3.2 million people were getting vaccinated daily in the U.S. as of April 12. Fast forward to early May, and the seven-day average has dipped to about 2.5 million people getting vaccinated daily, according to preliminary data.

The vaccine rollout was always going to slow down eventually — but health officials were hoping enough people had received the vaccine to achieve "herd immunity" to COVID-19.

Most health officials believe inoculating 70 percent of the adult population would be sufficient, but others think the figure could be higher due to the emergence of more easily-transmitted coronavirus variants.

As of May 2, 32 percent of vaccine-eligible people in the U.S. have received both doses.

Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, toured the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic, a mass-vaccination site in downtown Grand Rapids, Monday.

He told reporters the federal government needs to back awareness campaigns at the local level to ensure the public has accurate information on the vaccines — with the three currently being administered in the U.S. all considered safe and effective.

"We do have resources to make sure that we have public education campaigns for folks to see that the vaccine is safe, it is highly effective," Peters said. "And we need to have folks get this vaccine for us to get to the other side."

In Michigan, state data shows 50 percent of the vaccine-eligible population (people 16-and-older) have received at least their first dose.

Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced as more Michiganders receive the vaccine, more gathering and business restrictions would be lifted, including a state-wide mask mandate and all remaining restrictions once 70 percent of residents have received the vaccine.

Health officials at the local level say there are many people who have still yet to receive the vaccine that just aren't as motivated to get their dose yet, but will once it's convenient for them.

"We have the remaining 15, 20 percent of the population that is willing to get vaccinated, but they may not be highly motivated to go somewhere and to take special

steps or expend time and energy to get the vaccine," said Dr. Adam London, health officer for the Kent County Health Department.

"There are a number of reasons," he added. "They may be concerned about side effects, they may be concerned about things they've heard from non-reputable sources, they may be scared of needles."

Misinformation on the coronavirus has been rampant online since the start of the pandemic, and false theories about the vaccine have also popped up. London said to combat this, people need to see more of their peers receive the vaccine.

"Many people are willing to get it, but they may not be really motivated," he said. "They want to see the data, they want to see reasons why they should make a special trip to get vaccinated.

"It all speaks to the importance of everyday people in the community, regular citizens who have been convinced by the science, who have made that choice, and make it a priority to make that case for someone else. People are motivated by what goes around, people they think highly of and what they have to say.

"When they hear the reasons from those people in the community, that is going to motivate them to take that step and get vaccinated."

By:  Arpan Lobo
Source: Holland Sentinel