No vaccine hesitancy here: Some Summit County residents say they cannot be persuaded to get the shot

People pointed to adverse reactions, which health officials say are rare

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine sits ready to be used during a drive-thru vaccine clinic at the Summit Stage bus depot in Frisco on March 19. Some residents do not want to get the vaccine because of anecdotes related to adverse side effects.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the attribution on a quote.

To get the shot or not: This question has been a source of contention for communities worldwide.

For Breckenridge resident Rachel Steinmetz, her skepticism originally grew due to what she believed was a short turnaround time for the vaccine’s development.

“I was definitely a little skeptical in the beginning just because of how fast they were churned out and just the lack of the long-term data and also the disregard of any other existing treatments,” Steinmetz said.

Steinmetz pointed to treatment options like ivermectin, an anti-parasite medication that was briefly used to treat the virus in India. According to the Food and Drug Administration, ivermectin should not be used to treat or prevent COVID-19. Steinmetz also suggested natural herd immunity as a reasonable shield against the virus, but the World Health Organization has said herd immunity should be achieved through vaccinations as allowing the virus to spread “would result in unnecessary cases and deaths.”

For Steinmetz, examining other potential pathways to safeguard against the vaccine is worthwhile, saying two of her family members had severe reactions after getting the Pfizer vaccine.

The first was her cousin, a 27-year-old male living in Florida who got the Pfizer vaccine 1 1/2 months ago. A couple of weeks later, he visited a hospital.

“He was having numbness in his extremities, slight tremors, intermittent paralysis in his legs — they’d just stop working — so that was obviously freaking everyone out, and they were doing all kinds of tests on him to figure out what was going on,” Steinmetz said.

Eventually, Steinmetz said her mother, who is a retired ER nurse, suggested that he get a hematological test done. Steinmetz said the test showed that he was experiencing microscopic blood clots, and though doctors have not confirmed the relation, Steinmetz and her family believe it was due to the vaccine.

“He didn’t have any other health issues,” Steinmetz said. “He wasn’t on any medication, had no underlying conditions or anything like that, so that was literally the only thing different.”

Dillon resident Julia Biddle said a couple of family members also experienced health issues that they believe are connected to the vaccine. Her pregnant 25-year-old cousin had a miscarriage within three days of getting the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Another pregnant family member went into labor about 15 hours after receiving her first Moderna dose. She had her baby at 27 weeks a few days later.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the vaccines are safe for pregnant women and necessary to prevent “severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people.”

While all of these health problems happened outside the state, Summit County Nurse Manager Lauren Gilbert said the county doesn’t host data regarding adverse side effects or reactions to the vaccine for residents. Instead, Gilbert said information is reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. Gilbert explained that the system is a national database where individuals and providers can report and search adverse events and download the data.

The system is widely cited by those who mistakenly believe the vaccine has caused tens of thousands of deaths. Gilbert noted it’s important that those using the database do so with a grain of salt.

“The data is available for the public to search, so you can search by symptoms, vaccine characteristics, demographics, event characteristics. But it’s important to know that with any system like this, there’s going to be strengths and limitations,” Gilbert said. “Anyone can submit (a report), and this data can be a little inconsistent due to the nature of reporting. … So that’s why you’re going to see things like deaths from motor vehicle accidents reported after vaccination.”

“I think it’s really important to note that correlation does not prove causation,” she added.

Biddle also believes the system is flawed, but mostly because she thinks not all adverse reactions are being logged.

Steinmetz said her cousin’s event was not reported by her family, which she said is because the reporting system is not user-friendly. Providers are required to report all adverse reactions from the vaccine to the system, which could include things like fainting, abdominal pain or redness.

Gilbert said the system was originally set up to identify various events that are not thought to be associated with the vaccines. Those events are constantly being reviewed by federal health officials. If enough of the same events keep happening, they are researched to see if they’re linked with one of the vaccines.

“This system is intentionally set up to catch adverse events that are not necessarily thought to be caused by the vaccines, so this is the best tool to find what may be previously unrecognized as a rare adverse event to be eventually linked to a vaccine,” Gilbert said.

In most cases, these adverse reactions haven’t been linked, but there has already been one instance where the system proved useful.

“For example, with the blood clots after vaccination with the J&J vaccines, that was extremely rare when they first started collecting reports. And then they saw about 23 people that had developed (symptoms), and then they were able to link it back to the vaccine,” Gilbert said.

So what has the county’s experience been with those who’ve experienced adverse side effects to the vaccine?

“I’ve administered vaccines for all vaccine-preventable diseases, and I can tell you what I’ve seen after administering the COVID-19 vaccinations is not unusual when compared to other vaccines,” Gilbert said. “I think the biggest piece is for people to talk to their providers and seek information until they feel comfortable with their decision.”

In addition to providing as much information as possible about the vaccine, Gilbert said the Summit County Public Health department is also trying to make the shots as accessible as possible by reducing timing and transportation barriers.

Still, Biddle and Steinmetz said they don’t feel comfortable getting jabbed, mostly because of their family members’ experiences. Neither Biddle nor Steinmetz know anyone personally who has had a severe case of COVID-19 or has died from the virus.

“I wouldn’t say I’m hesitant,” Steinmetz said. “I’m more resolute because (of) the lack of transparency, like the denying of natural immunity and other existing treatments. And the principle of force and coercion doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t think I would ever consider taking it. … I just think the bribery, and the coercion and the force, it just doesn’t feel right to me.”

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