‘I’m not anti-vaccine’: Why some Utahns are choosing to forgo COVID vaccinations

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FILE – A staff member from the National Health Organisation (EODY) prepares a booster Johnson and Johnson vaccine against COVID-19 at Karatepe refugee camp, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. The fast-moving omicron variant is complicating a key question: How does the COVID-19 pandemic end and the world co-exist with this virus? Experts agree that the coronavirus is here to stay. Ending the pandemic won’t be like flipping a light switch. (AP Photo/Panagiotis Balaskas, File)

(ABC4) – As Omicron surges through our communities, local, state, and federal authorities are advocating for the COVID vaccine and subsequent booster shots more than ever. According to the Utah Coronavirus Dashboard, 59.1% of Utah’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 713,471 residents have received the booster. Vaccination rates appear to be increasing steadily across the state since the shot became available last spring, but, even despite the recent surge, some Utahns are standing firm in their decision to not take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Recently, a nationwide study attempted to uncover the most common reasons for residents choosing to not take the vaccine in each state by synthesizing data collected by the United States Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

According to the study, 58% percent of unvaccinated Utahns are worried about side effects, 32% are waiting to see if the vaccine is safe, 56% don’t trust COVID-19 vaccines, 36% don’t trust the government, and 39% don’t believe COVID is a threat.

ABC4 spoke with several Utahns who have decided to not take the vaccine, and their reasoning reveals the nuances behind the numbers.

“I think some of those survey reports that I’ve seen didn’t really cover what a lot of us feel about taking the vaccine, specifically these vaccines,” says Keith Dobson, a Sandy resident who has decided to refrain from taking the COVID vaccine.

For Dobson, several key reasons behind his decision are his good health and lack of perceived risk factors contributing to serious COVID infection.

“Most of us wouldn’t suggest that vaccines aren’t a good protection for the elderly, those with underlying health risks, or for people who are severely overweight,” he says, “I’m in my late 50s. My health risk is that I’m healthy. I rarely ever get sick, and if I do, it doesn’t last long.”

Dobson also feels that, should he get COVID, his natural immune response after infection would provide better protection than the vaccine.

And for Herriman resident George Bekmezian, this is precisely the reason why he’s maintained his position on forgoing COVID vaccines. Bekmezian contracted the coronavirus in fall of 2020 and says his antibody levels are still high enough for him to feel no vaccine is warranted.

“I actually get myself tested every few months for my antibody levels,” he says. “We have our older kids living in the house with us, too, and they didn’t have COVID the first time around. In the past month they had COVID and none of us in the house who already had COVID over a year ago got sick again.”

According to a recent article published by ABC27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s initial guidance stated that during the 90-day period after COVID infection, individuals were unlikely to contract the virus again. Now, subsequent evidence has been released suggesting that natural immunity lasts closer to 6 months, with one study revealed natural immunity can last as long as five years for some individuals. However, a December 2021 South African study suggests that reinfection due to the Omicron variant is 3 times more likely.

But natural immunity and general good health aren’t the only reasons Utahns are opting out of the vaccine. For Robyn Shoaf, a registered nurse living in Beaver, her comorbid underlying health conditions – including a blood-clotting disorder and chronic bronchitis – are her primary reasons for remaining unvaccinated.

“I have a couple of medical conditions,” she explains. “By themselves, they’re not on the CDC list for anything that would be something to avoid, but when you put them all together, it scares me to take it.”

And Utah residents who have chosen to forgo the COVID vaccine don’t seem to identify as “anti-vaccine” either. According to Dobson, he is up-to-date on all his other required immunizations. And Shoaf notes that she is fully supportive of her loved one’s decisions to take the vaccine.

“I’m not anti-vaccine, my husband’s been vaccinated, my parents have been vaccinated,” she says. “Every time I would go to make my appointment, I would just have this horrible anxiety. I stewed about it for days and days and it just was not sitting well with me to be able to take this vaccine.”

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