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Western New York health leaders work to combat COVID vaccine hesitancy

Erie County health commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said it's important to communicate factual information to those who may be leery about getting a vaccine.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Federal health officials have lifted the pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which began over blood clot concerns 11 days ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Food and Drug Administration agreed with the recommendation of a CDC advisory panel to end that pause, and to add a warning about an increased risk of very rare but severe blood clots. 

Local experts hope this announcement will boost vaccination efforts and help overcome vaccine hesitancy.

"I think getting the last 30% of individuals vaccinated to achieve what we hope will be the proportion needed for herd immunity is going to be a heavier lift," University at Buffalo's chief of infectious disease Dr. Thomas Russo said.

Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said it's important to communicate factual information to those who may be leery about getting a vaccine.

"It's really important to find out why people are hesitant, what they think might be true, acknowledge that concern, and that it's a big concern, and then we can understand that belief or that concern, and why they might be hesitant. And then give them some factual information so they are empowered to make a smart choice," Dr. Burstein said.

In the latest data from Erie County released Friday, 56% of eligible Erie County residents ages 16 and up have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 41% of eligible residents have completed the vaccine dose series.

Dr. Russo said herd immunity is when between 70 and 80 percent of the population is vaccinated. In order to get there, Dr. Burstein said the health department is trying to make it as easy as possible to get a vaccine.

She said the health department is going door to door with information about vaccines in neighborhoods and working to get more Pfizer vaccines for those aged 16 and 17. She also said soon they will be administering vaccines at fun outdoor events this summer.

Although appointments are recommended at Erie County vaccine clinics, Dr. Burstein said they will not turn away walk-ins.

"We really want them to make an appointment because it just makes it easier to go through," she said. "However, if people don't have time and it's difficult to plan they can just walk on in to one of our vaccine clinics, roll up their sleeves and get a vaccine."

One hesitancy Dr. Russo said he's heard is about the long-term effects of the vaccine.

"I think that it's quite clear that the risks of long-term consequences from getting COVID far, far, far outweigh as of yet unidentified long-term consequences of vaccination," he said.

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