Although roughly one third of the Greenlee County residents eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine are hesitant to get the shot, health officials say there is no need to be wary of it.
The COVID-19 vaccine is currently being offered to first responders, healthcare workers and teachers within Greenlee County.
Greenlee County Health Department Director Steve Rutherford said he is unaware of any one experiencing an adverse reaction to the vaccine in Greenlee County and believes the hesitancy will dwindle with time.
“As more vaccine is available and people see that it works, we believe those who are hesitant to take it now will be less hesitant,” he said.
Dr. Jonathan Manwaring, chief medical officer for Gila Health Resources, said all of Gila Health Resources medical staff, including doctors, and nurses over six different counties have received the vaccine.
“We haven’t mandated it. We’re trying to educate them to make the informed decision.” Manwaring said.
One of the most common reasons why some people are hesitant about the vaccine is because of how new it is, but “the science behind it and the safety and data behind it is very strong,” he said.
The vaccine was approved so quickly because the government removed the red tape barriers for emergency use, Manwaring said. The same committees and scientists who review the vaccine for regular FDA approval have approved the vaccine for emergency use, he added.
“The safety committee has looked at them and reviewed them and have given them the emergency activation,” he said.
According to the World Health Organization, the percentage of people who need to be immune in order to achieve herd immunity varies with each disease. For example, herd immunity against measles requires about 95% of a population to be vaccinated. For polio, the threshold is about 80%. The proportion of the population that must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to begin inducing herd immunity is not known.
Omar Negrete, Clifton Police Chief, said the majority of the Clifton Police Department are opting to take the vaccine. He said he will be taking the vaccine as soon as he has it scheduled.
“I think given the circumstances of the state, it’s important to take it, (however) I understand people’s concerns and it’s their right to not go out and get it as well,” Negrete said.
To Greenlee County Sheriff Tim Sumner, taking the vaccine is an incredibly personal decision and questioned why a story was being written on the topic.
“I believe that all personal health choices, whether they decide to take vitamins, supplements, have an operation, are personal health choices and shouldn’t pertain to other people,” he said.
Peter Ortega, Clifton Fire Department chief, said half of the fire department was willing to take the vaccine.
“We leave it up to them,” Ortega said. “My thoughts are, whether you take it or not, mask up, wash your hands, and keep social distancing until we get a handle on this.”
Amanda Gray, a frontline healthcare worker at Gila Health Resources in Morenci, wanted to take it. When she got the vaccine, a relative became upset with her because she thought the vaccine would sterilize her, which Gray immediately said was untrue.
“I did my research. Dr. Fox, the Greenlee County Medical Director, reviewed it with us. We could ask questions, he went through all of it. We were more educated. There’s not enough education out there about the vaccine,” Gray said.
Greenlee County has a signicant elder population and many are looking forward to receiving their shot, Dr. Fox said.
“They have seen what immunizations can do to reduce that burden,” Fox said.
When the vaccine becomes more readily available, Fox said he hopes to do more public service announcements, and go on social media to help people make an informed regarding taking the vaccine.
Eldon Merrell, Duncan Unified School District superintendent, said 40 of 75 of the school employees have opted to take the vaccine.
“We had scheduled a vaccination for this week. At that time, 16 people signed up. Then one of our staff members passed away (from COVID-19.) Eight additional staff members called me and wanted to be on the list after that,” Merrell said.
Four DUSD employes have contracted COVID-19 so far, he said.
“I was the first one to take it. I wanted to make sure everyone saw I was willing to do it,” he said. “I’m not worried about the side effects. I’m confident if I take it, I’ll have greater protection.”
David Woodall, Morenci superintendent, said a little over half of the Morenci school employees will be vaccinated within the next week or two.
Clifton Town Manager Rudy Perez said he will be presenting a COVID-19 vaccination proposal to the council on Feb. 11 for its consideration. He is consulting with legal counsel to determine if the vaccine should be voluntary or required. A third option could require employees who opt against getting the vaccine to use their own sick time should they get contract the virus later.