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Dr. Berk: Pfizer approval may decrease vaccine hesitancy

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 9:57 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The FDA has granted full approval to Pfizer’s vaccine for people 16 and older, a major step forward in the fight against the pandemic in the United States. Dr. Steven Berk, the dean of the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center School of Medicine and infectious disease physician says the most important part of the approval is that businesses, schools and officials can now mandate the vaccine. He says at least here in Texas, all eyes are on the governor for some guidance on that. Mandated or not, Dr. Berk wants people on the fence to know this vaccine is safe.

“As the data will show for this full approval, the vaccine is extremely effective and has a great safety profile, and now the full approval also adds the seal of approval on everything manufacturing,” Dr. Berk said.

Dr. Berk says full approval may be what some people have been waiting on to get the shot. But, he says some polls suggest FDA approval won’t be the major reason among those who change their mind.

“It may be 3 percent, 5 percent, 10 percent, maybe some number like that,” Dr. Berk said.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there are 116,389 people fully vaccinated in Lubbock County, making up a little more than 44 percent of the eligible population. So what’s stopping that 56 percent? Dr. Berk says it’s complicated, ranging from missing work because of minor side effects to unwarranted fears about severe ones.

“Like they’ve heard about myocarditis, heart inflammation, or Guillain-Barre syndrome, leg paralysis. Those things are so rare. They’re like 1 out of 100,000,” Dr. Berk said. “It’s a cliché but you do have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than getting one of those side effects from the vaccine.”

The health expert says the vaccine has a great record, with rare side effects in more than 300 million people in the country. Speaking as an infectious disease specialist, he says the health of our community depends on our percent of vaccinated people. For individuals who are young and healthy and believe they would be fine if they got the virus, he says they may be right. For the sake of others, he hopes they’ll change their mind and get the shot.

“Especially now with the Delta variant, they will give an average of 6 or 8 people that infection, on average. And who will that be? Will that be somebody’s grandfather? Will that be a coworker with chronic lung disease?” Dr. Berk said.

Dr. Berk says while more and more people are getting vaccinated, it’s too slow. If the rate stays low, he says the virus stays in the community longer, giving it the opportunity to produce new variants.

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