While most New Haven residents are fully vaccinated, many have stood by their decision to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 despite the city’s recent surge in cases and hospitalizations.
According to the city’s official COVID-19 hub, 61.81 percent of New Haven residents are fully vaccinated, while the statewide vaccination rate in Connecticut stands at 76.2 percent. As the highly infectious Omicron variant has emerged, the city currently reports 29,744 active cases and hundreds of hospitalizations. Over the past year, the city government and local organizations have set out on campaigns to encourage vaccination by debunking common misconceptions about its safety and efficacy. These organizations, including several schools and Black churches, have also made vaccines readily available through pop-up clinics and sites in different areas. Nevertheless, many residents still cite a variety of reasons for remaining unvaccinated — including safety concerns, distrust of the medical system, racial biases in medicine, conspiracy theories and perceived personal immunity.
“I don’t trust the vaccine, I don’t trust the medical field,” said New Haven resident Anthony Holloway, who identifies as a Black conservative. “You know, doctors — they lie. And when they lie to you, that holds a lot of weight in your future decisions.”
Although research has repeatedly shown the efficacy of the vaccine, Holloway shares sentiments with a diverse population of vaccine skeptics in the city. Bernard Macklin, vaccination outreach coordinator at the Community Alliance for Research & Engagement, said that a lack of trust in the medical field and misconceptions have created a high level of vaccine hesitancy among some New Haven residents.
Only 49 percent of New Haven’s Black population is fully vaccinated, compared to 57 percent of white residents, according to the COVID-19 hub. Macklin referred to the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study as a common source of distrust of the medical system in the Black community, but distinguished current calls for vaccination from historical racism.
“Being a Black male, if I wasn’t in the position that I currently am, having access to what I consider the facts, I’d probably be the same way as far as not trusting that this was something that was made for us,” Macklin said. “We had the situation with syphilis, and sure enough, that’s a situation that did happen … but this virus can harm anyone of any color, and people need to separate the two.”
Some unvaccinated residents said that they trusted their own immune systems to battle the virus, so they did not feel they needed the vaccine. Holloway said that he had rarely taken other vaccines in the past and currently does not use medications. Beverly Mullett, a New Haven resident who is 66 years old, wrote that she had “made it this far” without being vaccinated against COVID-19, so she “must be doing something right.”
However, the CDC recommends vaccination to reduce the risk of severe illness arising from COVID-19, and medical professionals have pointed to the spike in infections from the new Omicron variant as a reason to avoid such risks. Although evidence suggests Omicron causes milder symptoms than earlier variants, Yale New Haven Hospital has seen a sharp uptick in hospitalized patients, with roughly 65 percent of them being unvaccinated.
While Macklin identified a lack of trust in the medical system and misinformation as primary reasons people remain unvaccinated, he also noted the spread of anti-government conspiracy theories, including the myth that vaccines are microchipped. These sentiments run rampant on the Internet, including on platforms such as Facebook.
In a recent Facebook post on vaccine research from WTNH, a local news station serving New Haven, comments claimed that the vaccine was a “bioweapon” and gave recipients “a type of immunodeficiency (HIV).”
There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine causes HIV or any other immunodeficiency, and studies have repeatedly shown that the risk of developing severe long-term side effects is rare.
Although conspiracy theories and misinformation are common online, some residents want to distance themselves from the label of “anti-vaccine.” Some, like Holloway and Myra Smith, said they are hesitant to take the vaccine before new research and information emerges.
“People always think that just because you’re against this particular vaccine, that you’re anti-vaxx, and that’s not true at all,” Smith said. “Whenever you test new medicine, it’s usually years of process, because you want to know what the effects are going to be.”
While some COVID-19 vaccines were authorized by the FDA within a year of the pandemic’s onset, the development was based on a decade of coronavirus research.
Macklin said that people should trust the CDC’s findings on the vaccines’ safety. After conducting listening sessions with community members earlier this year, the CARE team concluded that sharing facts about the virus and the vaccine’s safety was the most effective method of encouraging vaccinations. Macklin said that encouraging skeptics to review information about the vaccine independently has been successful.
“Find out the truth for yourself — don’t look at other people’s opinions,” Macklin said with regards to the unvaccinated population. “Have a designated plan for your family, a plan that actually prevents them from getting the virus, or that is going to prevent them from dying or being hospitalized.”
70.97 percent of New Haven residents have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.