Op-Ed: Former HHS Official: Overcoming COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Right Thing for SC Residents

Earlier this summer, it appeared as if we were so close to victory in our seemingly never ending battle with COVID-19. Vaccination rates were climbing, cases were declining, and life appeared to be returning to normal.

Despite promising signals of a return to normal, according to data from the CDC, COVID-19 cases are once again climbing, hospitals are reaching their maximum capacities, and the COVID-19 Delta variant is surging.

Amidst the surge, the CDC recently reported that individuals between 18 and 49 make up the largest demographic of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Amongst their peers, people in the same age group, particularly those under 30, also represent a population with one of the lowest vaccination rates.

I, too, a 29-year-old male, admit that I was hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Despite having served at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and having worked alongside our nation’s top doctors and scientists at the FDA, CDC, and NIH, I still opted not to get the vaccine right away because I was concerned about possible side effects.

Moreover, having worked for the federal government, I couldn’t help but recall just how long it takes for the government to get anything done. It worried me that the vaccine was developed and approved for distribution in such a short amount of time.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t the conspiracy theories or the media that influenced my hesitancy. I wasn’t anti-vax or anti-science like some assumed. In all actuality, I have immense respect for healthcare workers – especially my mom, who’s a nurse.

Instead, it boiled down to nerves and making an informed decision for myself.

Ultimately, after consulting with my doctor and doing my own research via trusted sources such as the CDC and FDA, I made the decision to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for these three reasons:

First, I determined that the risks of being unvaccinated far outweighed the potential risks of side effects from the vaccine. Quite frankly, every vaccine comes with some sort of associated risks, and oftentimes, mild side effects like headaches and fatigue.

The efficacy of these vaccines is high. Clinical trials found the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to be between 94% and 95% effective, and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was found to be about 66% effective. In other words, if vaccinated, odds are you won’t get COVID-19.

The second reason? People my age play an important role in axing this pandemic.

As football and fall festivities begin, we’re far more likely to spend time in social settings. If we’re not getting vaccinated, but continue to socialize with one another, we’re only going to continue spreading it amongst ourselves. This will only continue to exacerbate the problem.

Lastly, it seemed hypocritical not to get the vaccine. From Instagram stories to Tik Toks, we’re immersed in a vomitorium of influencer ads for protein shakes and supplements – all products that are not regulated by the FDA but widely consumed by people my age.

If we’re all so gung-ho on trying these products, why are we so hesitant to get a vaccine that’s received full FDA approval? This makes zero sense to me, and I decided to side with science.

These reasons aside, getting vaccinated also just seems like the right thing to do.

Ignore the conspiracy theories. The COVID-19 Delta variant is on the rise, and getting the vaccine is the safest way to protect yourself, your family and your community.

This op-ed was originally posted in The State. You may find the original post here.

Gavin J. Smith is a Lexington, SC resident and a former deputy communications director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration.