Speed, side effects remain concerns for vaccine hesitant Pennsylvanians

PITTSBURGH — The push to get more people the COVID-19 vaccine expanded rapidly when Gov. Tom Wolf said he would not lift Pennsylvania’s mask mandate until 70% of people 18 and older were fully vaccinated.

That number is now above 50%, but experts warn getting to the finish line won’t be easy.

“I’m just determined to really wait and see what happens with the FDA approval process,” said Stephanie Coxon, a member of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Informed Consent, which focuses on personal freedom and medical choice. “I think everyone should just stop and question when is it right for them?”

During a media briefing earlier this month, Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson pointed to vaccine hesitancy as a top concern for state leaders.

That could make the possibility of herd immunity against COVID-19 more difficult, something doctors at UPMC are watching closely.

“We need a much more substantial amount of the population to have immunity in one form or another. Vaccines are just the easiest and best way to get that,” said Dr. Don Yealy, UPMC’s chief medical officer.

He pointed to continuing public campaigns and education as ways to get more people comfortable with the vaccine.

But he admits it’s a constant battle and some may never come around.

“For whatever reason, some people need a little more convincing, and we want to do that. Some people just don’t believe in the vaccines. We want to shift more and more of that,” Yealy said.

Before considering it, Chippewa parent Diana Campbell, founder of Health Freedom Pennsylvania, has several concerns related to health risks and the speed of the vaccine’s development.

For now, she has no plans to get vaccinated.

It’s a decision she knows many people may not agree with, but one she hopes will be respected.

“Everybody needs to assess the risk and benefit to both sides and be a little more compassionate and understanding as to why people don’t want this product.”