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COVID vaccine hesitation starts to emerge as demand drops in Western New York

Health directors across Western New York say they may drop mass clinics in favor of smaller events.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — For months now, 2 On your Side has been updating you on the vaccine supply and vaccination rate.

But this week may have marked a turning point to a degree as we hear that some vaccine appointment slots are going unfilled with less demand for doses. That leads some to ponder if this is vaccine hesitancy.

It happened this week at some local COVID vaccine clinics here in Western New York. Some available doses just not needed.

And remember a few months ago when appointment slots filled quickly, or they sometimes had to turn people away?

Niagara County officials say 1,000 doses were actually redistributed to other health agencies for more isolated pockets of the population in rural areas, or to the homebound or college students.

A similar situation with hundreds of doses unused happened in Genesee and Orleans counties.

So why now? For one thing, in Cattaraugus County, the most vulnerable, that is the elderly, are already vaccinated, for the most part, as they hit the 30 percent vaccination rate in that county.

Health director Dr. Kevin Watkins says: "I think we're now down to that population where there's a little bit more skepticism amongst those residents. And so it's just going to take a little more effort on the (health) departments in order to at least start to talk about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, and most importantly the importance of getting the vaccine."

This week's Johnson and Johnson vaccine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pause recommendation due to several blood clot issues didn't help just like earlier reports with AstraZeneca in Europe. And talk of the need for another booster with Pfizer just added to sometimes wildly inaccurate social media chatter.

We also spoke with a community health education advocate who works in neighborhoods in Buffalo and elsewhere about what she's hearing from people who aren't ready to roll up their sleeves to get their shots.

Samantha Nephew told WGRZ: "There's just not a lot of trust in big institutions, and you know the health care industry is a huge institution. Where the vaccines come from are huge institutions, and if you lived in disenfranchised neighborhoods, there's just not an inclination to trust where that came from."

So now we may see a different approach of sorts.

Dr. Watkins says: "We're going to have to downsize those large mass vaccination clinics that you might have seen in the past, and we're going to have to open up very smaller clinics."

Dr. Watkins says that could mean more privacy and trust in a doctor's office or a different setting like a popup in an apartment or housing complex. He suggests even a barber shop or beauty salon or grocery store.

Other health directors say there may be a need for additional explanations or incentivizing the vaccine by pointing out it could help lead to a greater sense of normalcy and more attendance for large scale events such as weddings, concerts, and sporting events. 

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