Michelle Lauchner isn’t opposed to vaccines – she’s received flu and tetanus shots in the past. But that doesn’t mean she’s lining up to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I think people think ‘You must be one of those kooky anti-vaxxers,’ but I’m truly not,” said Lauchner, of Eldora. “I just have some real questions.”
Lauchner is one of tens of thousands of Iowans who are hesitant or resistant to getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and as demand for the shots wanes, they're being targeted by public service announcements, ad campaigns and political figures.
As of Monday morning, 6,949 Hardin County residents have either been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or they’ve received a first dose of the vaccine. That’s about 41 percent of the total Hardin County population, or about 50 percent of the county population that’s over the age of 18.
But in recent weeks, pharmacies and public health agencies have seen the demand for COVID-19 vaccines decrease sharply. Whereas during the week of March 23-28, Hardin County residents received 1,181 COVID-19 vaccine shots, during the week of April 27-May 3, only 544 shots were administered. For three consecutive weeks, Hardin County Public Health has declined its allotment of vaccine doses from the state – a trend that’s being seen across the state. That has turned attention to people like Michelle Lauchner.
“I think there’s a tendency to think that people like me are out there reading different things and believing everything that comes across my computer screen, but I’m not that dumb,” said Lauchner, who is 58 years old and reads articles online but doesn’t participate in social media. “I’m pretty discerning. I’m able to think and reason through what I’m reading.”
And what Lauchner has read concerns her. Specifically, that development of the COVID-19 vaccines was fast-tracked. She said she wants to wait and see if people who’ve received the vaccines report any problems in the months to come. She said it could be a year or more before she's comfortable receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
Lauchner is among the Iowans Gov. Kim Reynolds was speaking to during a press conference last month.
“If you’re opting to wait and see, what are you waiting for?” Reynolds asked on April 21. “If you’ve been a hard ‘no’ from the start, what’s your reason? If you can’t answer those questions, we hope you take the time to reconsider.”
Reynolds was speaking about vaccine hesitancy. She invited Iowa National Guard Adjutant Gen. Ben Corell to speak at the same press conference. His story of contracting COVID-19, becoming very ill and being hospitalized was intended to encourage Iowans to get vaccinated.
But the governor’s message isn’t striking a chord with everyone. Karla Damiano, a married mother of four who lives in Iowa Falls, said she does not plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine, no matter what Reynolds or anyone else says.
“I’ve literally done all the research that I need to know I’m not getting the vaccine,” she said.
“There’s a lot of reasons why I don’t want to take the vaccine. Number one being that for me, my age group, it’s 99.98 percent survival rate of COVID,” said Damiano, who is 48. “So even if I were to acquire COVID, I would likely be fine. For me, it would be like getting the flu, and if you have a healthy immune system, you should be able to overcome it.”
Damiano said she’s been interested in holistic healing for years, and even became a health coach through a year-long course offered by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Her family primarily uses essential oils, non-GMO and organic foods, exercise and regular trips to the chiropractor to maintain their health. So the idea of being injected with a vaccine doesn’t appeal to her.
“We don’t even know the long-term effects,” Damiano said of the vaccines.
Dr. Katie Haverkamp, a physician at Iowa Falls Clinic and Hansen Family Hospital, said she’s spoken with many people who, like Lauchner and Damiano, don’t plan to get vaccinated.
“I tell people, ‘You have to have a really good reason not to get the vaccine,’” Haverkamp said, clarifying that a “really good reason” is an allergy to one of the vaccines’ ingredients, namely polyethylene glycol or polysorbate. Aside from that, Haverkamp said vaccination is about more than protecting yourself.
“It’s a socially right thing to do to try and do the right things to prevent spread of disease,” Haverkamp said.
On the topic of the vaccines’ safety, Haverkamp points to a pause in the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last month. After reports of a serious blood clotting issue in six people of the 7 million who’d received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered a halt to administration of the vaccine. That stop was lifted last week following an investigation.
“If they were willing to stop the vaccine for one in a million people,” look at how safe it is,” she said. “How many of us do we know who have had complications or died from COVID?”
Haverkamp said that while many of a community’s most vulnerable residents may have received the vaccine, that doesn’t guarantee they’re safe from COVID-19. The vaccines have been shown to have a 70-90 percent efficacy rate, but only in healthy people. Elderly people or people with compromised immune systems may not have the same level of protection. Haverkamp said that’s why it’s important for everyone to be vaccinated. And, there's no guarantee a seemingly healthy person won't get seriously ill from the virus.
“The vaccine works very, very, very well, but it’s not 100 percent,” she said. “You don’t get to pick which disease you get. You don’t get to pick how bad it is or who you spread it to. Although we’re opening up and feeling safer, you still don’t want to be the person getting it and rolling the dice on what you’re going to get and the longevity of symptoms.”
The Centers for Disease Control has not released COVID-19 survival rates associated with COVID-19 because analysis of data - including age and any underlying medical conditions - in each case is complex.
But Lauchner and Damiano said the vaccine still doesn't sit well with them and it's a risk they're willing to take. Both have had conversations with friends and family about their decisions and neither said they’ve felt pressured or shunned for not getting the shot.
“I think we all have a pretty good understanding that we get to make this choice for ourselves,” said Lauchner, who has two grown children – one who is leaning toward getting the vaccine, and other who is not.
“I don’t think anyone has pressured me to get it. People know what to expect from me because that’s how I live my life,” Damiano said of her decision not to get vaccinated. “I know a ton of family and friends who’ve gotten it. That’s their decision. I’m totally OK with that.”