Experts hoping to curb COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Right now, we're hearing more about demand for the COVID-19 vaccine, but there are many people still not comfortable getting the shot.

As we get further into the vaccine rollout, experts say it will likely get tougher to get enough people vaccinated to turn things around.

"I hope we don't get to the point where we are really having to twist arms," Alison Buttenheim, Ph. D. said. She's a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and an expert on vaccine acceptance.

Right now, as millions of people are vaccinated, she says we're seeing a "hesitancy melt."

"What's going to happen is everyone who wants to get the vaccine will get it, and the people who are left unvaccinated will be the hesitant so that will become more common to hear about that," she said.

And there are many different reasons why people may be hesitant - including mistrust of the healthcare system or government, not feeling personally affected by the virus, wanting to learn more about long-term effects and politics.

"It has turned out that political party is now the strongest predictor of whether you say you'll get the vaccine or not which is interesting, I think that is not something we expected last year," Buttenheim said.

She says health officials will need to pivot their approach to help people feel comfortable getting the shot. We need a significant portion of the population vaccinated in order to end the pandemic.

Health and Human Services is launching a new campaign on TV and social media to help get the message out and educate people about the vaccine.

Buttenheim says messaging like this helps, but even more powerful are one-on-one conversations.

"With your pastor, or your neighbor, a friend or peer or family member that's probably going to be the more persuasive person but I think at this point we want every strategy in play," she said.

And she says now may not be the only time we'll need to encourage people to get vaccinated. It's important right now to reach herd immunity, but this may be a longer effort if we start to see the virus spreading again in the fall or winter.
Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.