The nurse had just been told by a local that he would not get his scheduled second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine because he did not want to “put this poison in his body”.
The man said he heard that the second dose could really make him sick or give him blood clots and that the fish oil supplements he had been taking for years provided adequate protection from the disease that has killed nearly 1,500 of his compatriots in North Dakotan. Wang calmly stated that COVID-19 is much more likely to cause serious illness than the shot. The Moderna shock has no known association with blood clots and there is no evidence that the supplements he has taken protect him from the virus.
It was unsuccessful – his decision was made.
What Wang encountered is hardly unique in the Peace Garden State. About 9,300 North Dakotans, or 3.9% of those who received a first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, did not return within six weeks for the recommended second shot. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has been given to nearly 22,000 residents, does not require a second dose for maximum effectiveness.
The growing trend of skipping appointments that worries public health professionals is certainly not limited to North Dakota. More than 5 million people who were vaccinated in the United States, which is 8% of those who received the first sting, skipped their second dose, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Vials of concentrated COVID-19 vaccine will be kept in a special refrigerator at the communal vaccination center in Fargo on March 15, 2021 at 4 degrees. Michael Vosburg / Forum photo editor
Molly Howell, state vaccination manager, said leading scientists are concerned that taking just one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine does not give people maximum protection against the virus, especially when variants emerge. She said it was possible the second dose could offer longer-lasting protection against COVID-19, but added that there isn’t enough data to say for sure.
Howell said there are several reasons a person might skip their second dose. Some, like the man who spoke to Wang, downright oppose the push because they fear a vaccine-related illness or have had short-lived symptoms from the first dose.
For others, the follow-up appointment may have just slipped through the cracks in their schedule. According to Howell, people are generally less motivated to get preventive health care such as vaccinations, mammograms, and dental exams than they are to treat a disease or persistent pain.
Howell also noted that North Dakotans already infected with the coronavirus may believe they only need one shot to gain immunity, but she said experts still recommend getting both doses. There could also be a small number of people who contracted the virus after the first shot, either due to prior exposure or lack of vaccine effectiveness, who couldn’t complete the series on the normal timeline, Howell said, stressing that the Vaccine cannot give anyone the virus.
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Aside from the minor side effects, Howell said, North Dakotans are much better off taking any of the three available vaccines than rolling the dice of the virus. More than one in 200 North Dakotans has been hospitalized with COVID-19 since last spring and the risk of a severe reaction to the vaccine is very small, she said.
“I think there’s just some misinformation out there that people don’t necessarily balance the risk of disease against the risk and benefit of vaccination,” Howell said.
Even young people with no underlying medical conditions could face long-term health consequences such as heart problems after contracting and recovering from COVID-19. Hence, maintaining the protection offered by the vaccine can make a big difference across the age spectrum, she added.
In addition to the individual benefits of vaccination, Howell said it was considerate of the wider community, including older adults who might develop serious illness or die after contracting the coronavirus.
The health department plans to send letters to residents who are overdue for a second dose, but local health workers like Wang are already calling second-shot skippers across the state.
The second shot issue could challenge the state’s immunity to the virus in the future, but the unwillingness of some North Dakotans to even take the bump is likely a tougher hurdle for Howell and other vaccine advocates. Vaccination rates have started to plateau in the past few weeks as “vaccine reluctance” emerges in some parts of the state.