South Carolina doctors break down the psychology behind vaccine hesitancy

Coronavirus

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — More than half of eligible people in South Carolina have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a milestone passed last week. But even though 50.8% of people have received the vaccine, more than 2 million remain unvaccinated, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

State and health leaders said vaccines are critical to beating the virus, but that despite attention on hospitalizations, death and spread, it hasn’t been enough to convince the vaccine hesitant.

“I had super mixed feelings about it,” Bridgette Hilbert said.

Hilbert said she wasn’t confident in the vaccine months ago, and she wasn’t alone.

“And I was like uhh I don’t know,” she said. “I feel like a guinea pig and I don’t know how I feel about it.”

Doctors said there are many who are in the “wait and see” category. Others are completely opposed for different reasons. One of those is confirmation bias.

“That really is that people tend to gravitate to information that already reinforces what they think,” said Michael Sweat, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and faculty director for the MUSC Center for Global Health.

Sweat said confirmation bias is commonly seen today due to greater access to social media.

“Many people are just paralyzed about the potential risks they perceive of a vaccine,” he said. “So they just stop and they wait. They want this to become more certain before they take a chance.”

Sweat said some people aren’t convinced to get the shot until COVID-19 reaches close to home. That was the case for Hilbert.

“I had a family member die back in New York from COVID back in May, when it was in the super high point of COVID,” she said.

That, combined with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully authorizing the Pfizer vaccine, will have Hilbert get her second dose of the vaccine on Wednesday.

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