Even as restrictions on vaccine eligibility disappear, hesitancy mushrooms

Credit: Kassi Jackson
Credit: Kassi Jackson

Places like Mississippi that have already scrapped their eligibility rules offer the rest of the country a glimpse of the future. Some residents are thrilled to have the chance to be inoculated. “I wasn’t expecting to be able to get the vaccine for at least another few weeks,” said Emily Hillhouse of Brandon, Miss., who signed up on [March 16], the day after her 24th birthday. “It was kind of like a late birthday present.”

But many other people are holding back, spotlighting challenges likely to face the rest of the country related to equity, access and trust that could complicate the quest to reach the high levels of immunity needed to stop the virus’s spread.

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Nirav Shah, director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said he has been hearing from colleagues across the country that they are starting to see appointments go unfilled. “When they opened up and released doses, they are not being snapped up in 10 minutes like they were a month ago,” he said.

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“This I take as the very earliest sign that we are shifting from urgency to hesitancy,” said Shah, who is also president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “What I think we are uncovering is a little more baseline reticence as we move into the younger populations.”

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