Vaccine Hesitancy Explained

Over the past year many new buzzwords have been added to our everyday vocabulary. One that remains on the forefront today — vaccine hesitancy. The World Health Organization defines vaccine hesitancy as a “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services.” 

In this episode, primary care physician, Jai Gilliam, MD, explains what vaccine hesitancy is and why it’s not such a new concept. He retraces history to explain why legitimate hesitancy exists today, and offers facts to combat COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. 

To learn more about COVID-19, visit the Baptist Health COVID-19 Resources page. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself from serious illness related to COVID-19. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and schedule your vaccination appointment today.

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Welcome to HealthTalks NOW, bringing you the facts you need to keep you and your family well. We’re happy you’re tuning in today. Baptist Health is committed to providing compassionate high quality care that is centered on you. Listen to all of our podcasts to hear from Baptist Health physicians about the latest medical advancements and treatments, and get trusted information on timely health topics from our health care professionals. Whether you want to learn more about a specific condition or procedure or find tips for living a healthy lifestyle, Baptist Health is here to help you become a healthier you.

Speaker 1: Welcome to Health Talks NOW, bringing you the facts you need to keep you and your family well. We’re happy you’re tuning in today. Baptist Health is committed to providing compassionate, high quality care that is centered on you. Listen to all of our podcasts to hear from Baptist Health physicians about the latest medical advancements and treatments. And get trusted information on timely health topics from our healthcare professionals. Whether you want to learn more about a specific condition or procedure or find tips for living a healthy lifestyle, Baptist Health is here to help you become a healthier you.

Speaker 2: Well, Dr. Jai Gilliam, as we record this episode, 46% of the Commonwealth of Kentucky has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 38% of Kentucky has been fully vaccinated, which accounts for about 1.7 million people. Is that enough?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Yeah. When we look at vaccines and of course, the big topic around herd immunity and the goal, percentage-wise, with herd immunity, dealing with COVID-19 is to at least have at least anywhere between 85 to 90%, probably about 85% individuals vaccinated in the community. So, with that particular statistic that you just demonstrated and currently the trend in the US, it’s on the low part.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Speaker 4: We’re joined today on the phone with Dr. Jai Gilliam of Baptist Health Medical Group, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, for an important discussion on vaccine hesitancy. Dr. Gilliam, thank you for joining us by phone today.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Yes, ma’am.

Speaker 4: Would you introduce yourself to us?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Sure. Again, my name is Dr. Jai Gilliam. I’m originally from Indianapolis, Indiana. Been in Kentucky almost since ’92. I went to Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky, which is a historical black college, HBCU. And from there, went to the University of Kentucky, College of Medicine, where I received my doctorate in medicine. And then, from there went to Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. At that particular institution, I was in the Internal Medicine and Pediatrics combined residency program.

Speaker 4: Okay.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Then from there, came back to Kentucky, actually did private practice for about three or four years under the umbrella Samaritan Hospital before the merger of Samaritan and UK. And then in 2009, 2010, I actually joined Baptist Internal Medicine and Pediatrics Outpatient practice in Brannon Crossing.

Speaker 2: Okay, perfect. Well, the World Health Organization has identified vaccine hesitancy as a leading global health threat. Rejection of the COVID-19 vaccine lessens the probability of herd immunity, which you mentioned, and could extend the pandemic. Can you explain more in detail about what herd immunity is and why it’s so important for us to achieve?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Yeah. So, when we look at herd immunity and just like a herd, the term, and of course living in Kentucky, we got the farming community aspect illustrated.

Speaker 4: Yeah, that’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: But thinking about say a herd of cows or a herd of animals, obviously from a biological standpoint what that means is that individuals, once we’re exposed to some type of infectious agent and we’ll use COVID-19 as example, a point, you’re either going to build immunity two ways. That’s either natural infection, and by having the natural infection, our bodies do produce small proteins called antibodies, and these antibodies are weapons against the agent that it was formed to protect against. So, that is a form of protection. Again, that’s if individuals survive, right?

Speaker 4: Right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Because you have to survive in order to benefit from those antibodies.

Speaker 4: Sure.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: The second measure would be getting a vaccine, which is actually preparing your body to produce antibodies without having to succumb to the effects or consequences of a natural infection. So, those two ways are ways that individuals can produce protective antibodies. And what the herd immunity concept is, with any given particular infectious disease incident or disease that we’re talking about, or just with vaccines in general, as far as the uptake in vaccine administration, there’s always going to be a percentage of individuals who are not going to get vaccinated.

Speaker 4: Right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: And so, what the herd immunity does, those individuals who’ve been vaccinated of course have protective antibodies, have a barrier, a herd around those individuals who are not vaccinated. And so, those individuals are actually protected, not because they’ve come out unscathed or by some form of luck. It’s because the herd, the community is so protected that the virus has no able body to infect and therefore, the incidence of transmission is low overall. So, that individual who’s not protected so to speak, is protected by the herd.

Speaker 2: Got it. That makes sense. So, the American Academy of Family Physicians recently published an article detailing some common reasons that individuals may be hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s walk through some of those now and look at some of the ways that we can move past each. So first and foremost, safety and efficacy concerns. What can you share with us to help ease the fear with the COVID-19 vaccines on a belief that they’re not safe, or they do not work?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: One of the things that we as physicians always have to come in contact with, or at least, is educate and debunk false information. First of all, acknowledging patients where their fears are. Don’t dismiss it. And it’s okay to be fearful, right? You get on a plane, you get nervous on takeoff, is the plane going to go down? Or if you’re on a train, is it going to derail? We all have certain fears, but when we look at the grand scheme of things, our fears are really not in place where we should be frightful for, because the outcomes are usually in our favor.

And so, when we look at vaccines, safety and efficacy, the COVID 19 vaccine the data is there, but we’re trying to combat information is things that have been put on social media, the political stance that’s been on vaccines, and just playing on people’s fears. But the efficacy and safety of these vaccines in production are definitely there. In other words, even under the emergency authorization that these vaccines have been put out, before we even put it out into the general public with the purpose of mass vaccination, the safety and efficacy is there. But that’s not to be confused with side effects, right? Things do have side effects along with different products, but that doesn’t mean they’re not safe and effective.

Speaker 2: Sure. Right. Yeah. And those side effects are actually an indication that your body is having the physiological immune response necessary to build those antibodies. Is that right?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Exactly. And so, what I usually tell patients is that when you do get these vaccines, you can have a local reaction, maybe a low grade fever, muscle aches. You may feel like you’re coming home from work and coming down with something, but this actually pales in comparison to actually getting natural COVID-19 and going to the emergency room, being admitted, hospitalized. Lord forbid, going to the ICU on ventilators and multi-organ failure and death. I mean, all those scenarios are a possibility. And so, that pales in comparison and you’re right, those side effects are just signs of an active immune system doing what it’s supposed to do.

Speaker 2: Yeah. And I think the side effects that are more associated with the virus itself, I think are easily explained away. You’re having an immune reaction to a version of the symptoms that come along with the virus. But one of the questions that we’ve seen frequently on social media and trending on Google is why is there pain at the injection site? When you get an intermuscular injection, why is your arm sore afterward? Can you answer that for us?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Yeah. The thing that we always try to illustrate, at least I try to illustrate with patients is, when you get sick, when you get fever, when you get chills, when you get muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, all that stuff, it’s not always directly because of the infectious agent that your body has been exposed to. It’s actually your immune system. And so, a lot of those symptoms, especially the soreness at the muscle site is because your immune system is reacting. Why is it localized? Well, because what the vaccine does, it sets up shop exactly at that location where the proteins are injected. Okay. And so, what happens is with your white blood cells, all the other cascade effects and with your immune system, reacts at that particular location.

So, it’s centered on that particular location, and not to go all into the immunology behind it, but long story short, that’s where the action takes place. That’s exactly where things are set up. And so, that’s why you have those symptoms there, but it’s not because you’re coming down with the disease. It’s just your body is having an immune response and producing those antibodies. One of the things that the immune system’s job is supposed to do is to alert you that something’s there. So, it’s just playing on its natural ability and its natural characteristic.

Speaker 4: I don’t want to get off too on a tangent, but is that the reason why Moderna was required to be kept at such a low temperature because they needed that degree in order to make its way to the mRNA, like you mentioned from the injection site?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: The reason behind the extreme low temperatures is that normally during vaccine production, such as we’ll just … Varicella, hepatitis B or hepatitis A, some of the other regular refrigerator temperature is, a lot of the vaccines have preservatives in there. And the reason why they have preservatives in there is to prolong their shelf life, and also prevent any microbial growth in those particular bottles. But the messenger RNA vaccines, both Pfizer and Moderna, currently at the date of this podcast, are so frigidly low is because they’re probably one of the most pure vaccines. They have no antibiotics in it. They have no preservatives in there. And just pretty much are just the lipid texture and the protein, the messenger RNA protein, and different saline and sugars to help stabilize it, of course, but there’s no antibiotics in it. There’s no preservatives in it.

Speaker 4: Oh, okay.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: So to take that out, you have to compensate and make sure that there’s no anti-microbial growth. And so, to do that, these vaccines are held at extremely low temperatures to prevent that from growing in those vials. So, that’s the reason why, and also messenger RNA is extremely instable, so you have to keep it at a low temperature. If it goes above certain degrees temperature that protein becomes unstable and your vaccine becomes not viable in regards to what it’s supposed to do.

Speaker 2: Wow.

Speaker 4: That’s fascinating.

Speaker 2: That is. We’ve talked a lot about COVID-19 and the vaccine over the past few months on different podcast episodes and it’s the first time I really understand the temperature.

Speaker 4: Yes.

Speaker 2: So, that was great. So, you mentioned a couple of different ways of achieving immunity, both physiologically or by the vaccine. And next on the list that was prepared by the American Academy of Family Physicians on reasons that people are hesitant, was a preference for that physiological immunity. Have you seen this in your patients or practice, or can you talk to us about why people may have the perception that the physiological immunity is more powerful or somehow better than receiving the vaccine?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Well, I think it goes by when we look at the history of vaccines, you go from whatever disease entity we talk about, small pox, polio, measles. There’s always been a hesitancy there. That’s always been the nature of individuals when dealing in community. And I think it’s just because of the nature … One, because of the nature of the vaccine, right? I mean, it’s somewhat just intrusive just a little bit, just as far as a needle injection. And then, you start playing on people’s false information that’s out there in regards to the safety of these vaccines. And truth be told, we also have to address the other things in the room as well. The practice of medicine, there’s been some dark chapters with vaccines, right?

Speaker 4: Yeah. Like the Tuskegee experiment.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Tuskegee experiment, obviously dealing with a different infectious agent within the African American community being experimented on as far as allowing syphilis, okay, STD, to progress through a community and observing them. But specifically in the 1950s, the Cutter incident that occurred in California, when during the height of the polio epidemic, there was a particular pharmaceutical company, Cutter, in California that actually sidestepped some of the steps in production of the vaccine. And in such, there was actually instead of an inactivated polio, it was actually live. And so, individuals were actually being injected with live polio. During that time, about 120,000 children were exposed to the vaccine at that time. About 40,000 got sick. 50 individuals became paralyzed. And five children died during that incident.

We’ll fast forward it to 1976, the swine flu incident during then that time, Gerald Ford, president at the time was under the gun for re-election against Jimmy Carter at the time. But one of the things that happened at Fort Dix was the swine flu. And this was big. And you got to go back in time because the swine flu immunologically is to some degree similar to the influenza of 1918. So during that time, he had to make a decision whether to mass produce a swine influenza seasonal vaccine to combat that particular epidemic. CDC during that time said, “Hey, hold on, let’s see how this goes.” But one of the marketing things during that time that Gerald Ford was, “Every child, every adult, every man, woman, will be vaccinated.” We saw a political spin with this.

Long story short, there was a mass production of seasonal influenza. Well, during that time, some of the vials actually had live influenza strands. And so, during that time, 450 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome occurred, which is a neurological symptom, auto-immune neurological symptom. And the actual swine flu incident, it was mild. It was a call that he had to make, it was a political spin, but it was mild. And so, when you go get your flu shot, when they ask you, “Have you ever had Guillain-Barre?” It’s because of that-

Speaker 4: That’s why. Wow.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: So, why do I share that? It’s because, fast forward to now, when people see mass production of vaccine, you have different generations who look back on those incidents and say, “Yeah, you said that last time and look where we’re at.”

Speaker 4: Right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: But we have to address those issues why they’re at and why this is not the polio and not the seasonal influenza. Sorry I took my time on that.

Speaker 2: No, that-

Speaker 4: No, that was extremely beneficial, I think, because I think there’s a tendency to dismiss the fear and to brush it aside like, “Oh, there’s no reason to worry.” But to your point, there are a lot of reasons, valid concerns that people have that deserve acknowledgement and that deserve a thorough explanation like you just gave.

Speaker 2: Yes.

Speaker 4: So, I think that was great.

Speaker 2: Possibly one of the biggest concerns we’re hearing about anecdotally and via the media is distrust in the government and in health organizations, is this something you’re experiencing and what assurance can you offer in that regard?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: First of all, again, acknowledging where people are and you have a right to feel that way because our history is the greatest teacher of our present and our future, right?

Speaker 2: Right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Because it arms us with the knowledge of what to expect in the future. But it’s not apples and oranges, right? This is a pandemic. So, this is affecting humanity, regardless of your social-economic status, your 401k, your race, your religion-

Speaker 2: Or political party.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: All this virus needs is an able body, that’s it. And so, what I try to tell people is that, do your research, do your reading up on these vaccines. And of course, diffuse all through the information that which is negative and positive. And what I mean by that is common things I get to hear about as well, “They made this vaccine way too fast.” I’ll say, “Well, the science behind messenger RNA and vaccines like this, you know this has been since the ’70s, right? This is almost close to 40 years of data.” “Oh no, I didn’t know that.”

Or, “What steps are put in place that makes sure there’s safety?” Well, it’s not just the pharmaceutical companies, but there’s third party checkpoints, live action checkpoints that review research data as it comes out. So, a pharmaceutical company can’t just put out a product and say, “Hey, we got the best data.” Oh, well, we want to see your numbers. And there’s about four or five different agencies who have no bias, no allegiance to any corporate, but to make sure that these vaccines are safe. And when you have the data that’s put out there with the research, stage one, stage two, stage three of a vaccine development. That normally take months and years that are done simultaneously, but they’re done in such a way to one, make sure the product is safe and effective. You can assure it is safe and effective. Doesn’t mean there’s not any side effects or people won’t have side effects, but it is safe and effective when we look at how these vaccines are rolled out. And it’s actually a medical miracle that we’re witnessing right now.

Speaker 2: It’s interesting. I think there’s got to be some element of people weighing their risk. So saying, “Well, the risk of getting COVID in my mind, is less than the risk of the vaccine.” And there’s got to be some of that weighing their options going on back and forth, but what we’re learning and what we’re finding out is that even if you get a mild case … Because I think that’s the perception that’s holding a lot of people back is like, “Well, I might get sick, but I’ll be fine.” Even if they are, the longterm effects that this virus is proving to have in a variety of body systems for months to now we’re seeing up to 12 years of data coming out. Those are proving extremely significant for folks.

Speaker 4: Long COVID is, we’ve put out some content on that and it’s startling and alarming, of the repercussions that you have to deal with for years to come that we still don’t know all the full effects of.

Speaker 2: Right. And that’s part of the hesitancy in the vaccine right, too?

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Speaker 2: Is that people are saying, “Well, we don’t know what this is going to look like in five, 10 years, what are the long-term effects of the vaccine?” But on the flip side of that coin, we still don’t know what these long COVID effects are going to be in five or 10 years.

Speaker 4: Exactly.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Right. And the thing that I try to illustrate with patients is this, whatever protocol you have in your mind, whatever schema you have, how your body usually reacts to a cold or a flu or an illness, “I usually bounce back. This is my concoction that I use. When I get a cold, I get the turmeric, I get the vitamin C, I get my rest.” COVID-19 has dismantled all of that. Why is that? Well, first of all, it’s a pandemic. So, normally, normal colds, flu, yeah they pop up in different areas, but it doesn’t involve the whole globe on a mass infection this way. Second, I usually tell patients, our bodies are designed such that … I use this analogy like Men in Black, do you remember the movie Men in Black?

Speaker 4: Oh yeah.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: The people are walking, right? And all these ghouls and goblins are all around. And you have the agents in there, they’re flashing. And while you’re walking, they’re protecting you from all the ghouls and goblins. Well, the reason why you get so healthy and so bounced back is because your immune system, whether it’s the T-cells or the B-cells, they have an extraordinary catalog of memory. So, when they see something they say, “Okay, yeah, we’ve seen that before. Oh yeah, we got this. Okay. Yep. Oh, okay. We got this.” And so, they bounce back just because you have a healthy immune system that can go back on the catalog and say, “Hey, you know what? We got people to take care of this.” The problem with COVID-19 is nobody’s seen it before-

Speaker 4: They’ve never seen it before. Right.

Speaker 2: That’s true.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: So, you don’t know how it’s going to happen. You don’t know what the Russian Roulette or the dice are going to play. And there’s no do-overs. So when it happens, when you go quickly from a mild cold to muscle aches, to typical viral symptoms, to respiratory distress, to respiratory failure. By the time you cascade down, there’s no turning back and you don’t know how the outcome is going to be. So, it’s one of those things that I try to tell patients is, “There’s two knowns that you have, right now, a vaccine that is safe and effective. And yes, some side effects that are beneficial to protect you. And then you have a known killer out there, which is COVID-19.” “Well, why do you say it’s a known killer?” “Because we’re in a pandemic, you don’t get a pandemic level without it being something mild.”

And so, it was just one of those things that people have to research for themselves, look at their own health, their own comorbidities, which other diseases that they’re dealing with, that COVID-19 plays on and will hinder and make it more of a bad outcome for you than to have something on board and be protected. And so, it’s an individual’s decision that people have to make, but it’s been a definitely win-win when it comes to this vaccine in regards to safety and efficacy.

Speaker 4: Well, that individual’s decision is perfect lead into our last point that we want to make with you. It’s the most controversial, it’s autonomy and personal freedom. How can we address this? How do we share the facts to move the needle on vaccine hesitancy without making people feel coerced?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Yeah. I think it’s one of those things that being board certified in both, I have it on both spectrums, as a pediatrician, I’m transparent. I share a lot … When I have parents come in and they ask me, “Do your kids get these vaccines?” “Every single vaccine that your child has, my two girls have received.” “What about you? Did you take the…” Second week that it rolled out, I rolled up my sleeves and took the vaccine.

Speaker 4: Sure.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Because if I’m going to recommend it to you all, I have to be in the frontline at least say I’m doing it myself.

Speaker 2: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: The second thing I try to say is, when it comes to decisions, you have to make that decision on your own. Nobody can make it for you, but do the research, read about it and weigh the pros and cons of it, the benefits of it. Okay? You’ll be surprised. There’s a certain percentage right now, currently when it comes to vaccine hesitancy. There’s a percent of population, no matter what you say, they’re just not going to do it.

Speaker 4: Right.

Speaker 2: Sure.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: They’re not. And percentage-wise and looking progress-wise, those individuals are not going to get the vaccine. That’s where the herd immunity is truly going to protect. But on the fence, the people that are like, “Well, I’m going to wait it out to see what the outcomes are going to be.” The middle of the ground, that’s the target that we’re definitely trying to at least put emphasis and say, “Yeah, while you’re waiting, you’re still at risk. And so, truly think about it.” And then of course, there’s the other percentage of individuals who just want to weigh the facts and have it put in layman’s terms, what the vaccine is, what it’s not.

And I actually have not been seeing a lot of hesitancy or at least the ones that have been on the fence, have gotten the vaccine either because of personal history, they known somebody who’s passed away of COVID. And it’s just really real. I know it’s affected me personally, I had COVID in December and got the vaccine shortly after that. And I’ve had colleagues, close colleagues that have died from COVID. Even their profiles don’t even match up what … They weren’t multiple co-morbidities one was a star athlete. So, I try to share that with individuals and say, “Hey look, whatever protocol you have in your mind that you think you can beat this virus. No, you-

Speaker 4: That’s the scary part about this.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: … really got to do some soul-searching on this. But I’m just here to lay the facts for you. Answer the questions, but the ultimate decision is yours and I respect that.” And people need to respect that.

Speaker 2: Yeah. I think that’s a great point. And I think like you’re saying, a lot of the stuff that you’ve shared with us today is stuff that I’m hearing for the first time.

Speaker 4: Me too.

Speaker 2: And it’s been very, very beneficial, I think, and answers a lot of those questions and addresses a lot of the fears and concerns that we’ve heard anecdotally through social media and our work with the public. And I think a lot of what you’re saying is there’s a real lack of information or correct information.

Speaker 4: That’s exactly right.

Speaker 2: And there’s a real lack of people explaining it in a way that the average person can not only understand and take with them, but then go out and repeat to their friends and family.

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Speaker 2: And a lot of what is getting trickled down or fed is that information that is shocking. That’s easy to regurgitate. And so, the more that we can share information like this, with facts and with the explanation of history to go behind it, I think is so valuable.

Speaker 4: This was digestible, for sure.

Speaker 2: And moving us closer to where we need to be. Because like you said, we looked at some research too, that showed that group of people who are on the fence, they’re not anti-vaxxers, but they weren’t first to jump in line. That’s our biggest group right now.

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Speaker 2: The anti-vax group was actually relatively small in the data that we saw.

Speaker 4: But this is so timely, this discussion and us putting out this episode with the way that we’re relaxing the mask policies and people are out more, larger gatherings. This is the time to make that decision.

Speaker 2: It is because, I think we have gone to such length for a year to keep the exposure down.

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Speaker 2: And now more people are getting vaccinated, but like you said, we need to be at 85% to be herd immune. And right now we’re barely at 50. So, the concern I think, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, Dr. Gilliam, is that as we relax these mandates, as we move away from mandatory masking and open back up to 100% capacity at places like restaurants and outdoor events and concerts, that we might see a spike again, if people are not vaccinated.

Speaker 4: It’s already June 1st and we’re still not certain what’s going to happen this fall.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Right. And I think the other thing too, is just that level of respect. I mean, there’s some individuals who got completely vaccinated, who are still wearing their mask. The data’s out there that once that you have been completely vaccinated, your transmission to other individuals is extremely low. Okay? Even if you get exposed now, there’s a positive, you don’t have to quarantine. If you’ve been properly vaccinated. We’re seeing individuals, families, even my family had a small gathering a few weeks ago, everybody was vaccinated. And it was the first time my mother saw her grandchildren face-to-face and hugged them in over a year. So, we’re seeing glimpse of that, of awakening out of the pandemic. But if you want to have that type of embracement, you’ve got to play by the rules or at least do it in such that you decrease the risk of other individuals there. But fear, hesitancy, it’s a normal, healthy emotion. It alerts you. But what we don’t want fear to do is immobilize you and not do anything.

Speaker 4: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Okay? And so, I think as the pandemic goes forward, we’ll see things open up and get back to a different normal, but please respect it. And if you don’t think that’s true, look at India right now, two different spectrums of the world, still going through a pandemic and they’re not out of it yet. And so, all that just to say is, people do your research, ask questions. If you have got the vaccine, go ahead and share that with individuals. Okay? So, share your testimony.

Speaker 4: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: And that’s been a big thing. I mean, people have been having ice bucket challenge and all this other challenge. People been rolling up their sleeves, showing their badges and making it fun. It’s a mark of the ending of a pandemic. You’re going to remember where you were during COVID-19. You’re going to remember … These are the things you’re going to share with generations to come. And yes, there will probably be more pandemics, but as the science gets better, as we see proof that things work, it’s actually the best time to be in a pandemic medical science wise. It really is. I mean, influenza in 1918, didn’t have any of this stuff. And by God’s grace and fate, that virus died out. Thank goodness. But look what destruction it took with them.

Speaker 2: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: But look how much we’ve stopped at least up to this point, but we’re battling still the hesitancy, all the other things that come with each pandemic. But I think as things get more educated, people become more familiar. Science is your friend not your foe, but you have to have knowledge of what’s being given to you. Okay? And so, yeah.

Speaker 4: I love it. Yep.

Speaker 2: There’s like you said, a lot of fear on both sides still, but leaning into that fear and asking the right questions and embracing it, and respecting your fellow neighbor is where we need to go. And just so fortunate and blessed that we live in a place and in a time where anyone who wants this vaccine can get it. That we have access. That we have exceptional medical care. Yeah. We’re just blessed and fortunate.

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: And it’s free. All the different barriers is … And I just have to share this. When we look at the pandemic, when we look at science, we have to look at the different cultural views. African-Americans are looking at it differently. The Tuskegee experiment holds in our community of what the government did and that’s to this date, it’s the most longest, unethical human experiment on US soil-

Speaker 2: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: … is the Tuskegee experiment. So, we’re ruined with those scars. You talk to the Hispanic community, almost 25%, maybe even higher, are undocumented immigrants. So, they’re scared to come out because they’re fearful that you have to give up some type of residential status to get the vaccine, or somehow ICE is going to be there. So, all these different fears, but the same pandemic. But culturally, once we educate people about what this is, to my African-American viewers, the information is there, you know what the information is there and you can read about it. Tuskegee experiment, the information was withheld.

Speaker 2: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: The community was left in the dark, but my Hispanic listeners and viewers, there’s no immigration status on getting the vaccine. None of that information, there’s no insurance cards required. You just simply register, get vaccinated. And if they do track individuals, it’s just to make sure individuals tracking side effects and that’s done with an app. Again, no personal information. If you have side effects and want to report it, it helps out in the long run.

And so, same pandemic, different eyes, but mutual respect and understanding is what we need to get through this. This is a state of humanity, not just individual barriers and issues. Okay? Although, those things are there to exist, different barriers, and that’s a different topic another time, but just moving through and understanding that this is humanity, regardless of what you have, COVID-19 does not care.

Speaker 2: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Okay. And so, just want to get that to individuals.

Speaker 2: Well, Dr. Jay Gilliam, it has been an absolute pleasure and honor. This has been a really, really informative and valuable conversation that we know is going to help a lot of people. We hope to have you back on the show again soon. And for those of you listening, if you’d like to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, read testimonies from our medical staff about their why, why they chose to get vaccinated and to find a vaccine location near you, you can visit baptisthealth.com/vaccine. We’ll see you next time on Health Talks NOW.

Speaker 1: Thanks for tuning in to Health Talks NOW. Staying healthy is a lifelong commitment and Baptist Health can provide the support you need to lower your risks, improve your quality of life, and protect your longterm health. Visit baptisthealth.com to hear our other podcasts, learn about our services and find more tips to help you stay a step ahead of your health. Baptist Health, be a healthier you.

Speaker 1: Welcome to Health Talks NOW, bringing you the facts you need to keep you and your family well. We’re happy you’re tuning in today. Baptist Health is committed to providing compassionate, high quality care that is centered on you. Listen to all of our podcasts to hear from Baptist Health physicians about the latest medical advancements and treatments. And get trusted information on timely health topics from our healthcare professionals. Whether you want to learn more about a specific condition or procedure or find tips for living a healthy lifestyle, Baptist Health is here to help you become a healthier you.

Speaker 2: Well, Dr. Jai Gilliam, as we record this episode, 46% of the Commonwealth of Kentucky has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 38% of Kentucky has been fully vaccinated, which accounts for about 1.7 million people. Is that enough?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Yeah. When we look at vaccines and of course, the big topic around herd immunity and the goal, percentage-wise, with herd immunity, dealing with COVID-19 is to at least have at least anywhere between 85 to 90%, probably about 85% individuals vaccinated in the community. So, with that particular statistic that you just demonstrated and currently the trend in the US, it’s on the low part.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Speaker 4: We’re joined today on the phone with Dr. Jai Gilliam of Baptist Health Medical Group, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, for an important discussion on vaccine hesitancy. Dr. Gilliam, thank you for joining us by phone today.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Yes, ma’am.

Speaker 4: Would you introduce yourself to us?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Sure. Again, my name is Dr. Jai Gilliam. I’m originally from Indianapolis, Indiana. Been in Kentucky almost since ’92. I went to Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky, which is a historical black college, HBCU. And from there, went to the University of Kentucky, College of Medicine, where I received my doctorate in medicine. And then, from there went to Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. At that particular institution, I was in the Internal Medicine and Pediatrics combined residency program.

Speaker 4: Okay.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Then from there, came back to Kentucky, actually did private practice for about three or four years under the umbrella Samaritan Hospital before the merger of Samaritan and UK. And then in 2009, 2010, I actually joined Baptist Internal Medicine and Pediatrics Outpatient practice in Brannon Crossing.

Speaker 2: Okay, perfect. Well, the World Health Organization has identified vaccine hesitancy as a leading global health threat. Rejection of the COVID-19 vaccine lessens the probability of herd immunity, which you mentioned, and could extend the pandemic. Can you explain more in detail about what herd immunity is and why it’s so important for us to achieve?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Yeah. So, when we look at herd immunity and just like a herd, the term, and of course living in Kentucky, we got the farming community aspect illustrated.

Speaker 4: Yeah, that’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: But thinking about say a herd of cows or a herd of animals, obviously from a biological standpoint what that means is that individuals, once we’re exposed to some type of infectious agent and we’ll use COVID-19 as example, a point, you’re either going to build immunity two ways. That’s either natural infection, and by having the natural infection, our bodies do produce small proteins called antibodies, and these antibodies are weapons against the agent that it was formed to protect against. So, that is a form of protection. Again, that’s if individuals survive, right?

Speaker 4: Right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Because you have to survive in order to benefit from those antibodies.

Speaker 4: Sure.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: The second measure would be getting a vaccine, which is actually preparing your body to produce antibodies without having to succumb to the effects or consequences of a natural infection. So, those two ways are ways that individuals can produce protective antibodies. And what the herd immunity concept is, with any given particular infectious disease incident or disease that we’re talking about, or just with vaccines in general, as far as the uptake in vaccine administration, there’s always going to be a percentage of individuals who are not going to get vaccinated.

Speaker 4: Right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: And so, what the herd immunity does, those individuals who’ve been vaccinated of course have protective antibodies, have a barrier, a herd around those individuals who are not vaccinated. And so, those individuals are actually protected, not because they’ve come out unscathed or by some form of luck. It’s because the herd, the community is so protected that the virus has no able body to infect and therefore, the incidence of transmission is low overall. So, that individual who’s not protected so to speak, is protected by the herd.

Speaker 2: Got it. That makes sense. So, the American Academy of Family Physicians recently published an article detailing some common reasons that individuals may be hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s walk through some of those now and look at some of the ways that we can move past each. So first and foremost, safety and efficacy concerns. What can you share with us to help ease the fear with the COVID-19 vaccines on a belief that they’re not safe, or they do not work?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: One of the things that we as physicians always have to come in contact with, or at least, is educate and debunk false information. First of all, acknowledging patients where their fears are. Don’t dismiss it. And it’s okay to be fearful, right? You get on a plane, you get nervous on takeoff, is the plane going to go down? Or if you’re on a train, is it going to derail? We all have certain fears, but when we look at the grand scheme of things, our fears are really not in place where we should be frightful for, because the outcomes are usually in our favor.

And so, when we look at vaccines, safety and efficacy, the COVID 19 vaccine the data is there, but we’re trying to combat information is things that have been put on social media, the political stance that’s been on vaccines, and just playing on people’s fears. But the efficacy and safety of these vaccines in production are definitely there. In other words, even under the emergency authorization that these vaccines have been put out, before we even put it out into the general public with the purpose of mass vaccination, the safety and efficacy is there. But that’s not to be confused with side effects, right? Things do have side effects along with different products, but that doesn’t mean they’re not safe and effective.

Speaker 2: Sure. Right. Yeah. And those side effects are actually an indication that your body is having the physiological immune response necessary to build those antibodies. Is that right?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Exactly. And so, what I usually tell patients is that when you do get these vaccines, you can have a local reaction, maybe a low grade fever, muscle aches. You may feel like you’re coming home from work and coming down with something, but this actually pales in comparison to actually getting natural COVID-19 and going to the emergency room, being admitted, hospitalized. Lord forbid, going to the ICU on ventilators and multi-organ failure and death. I mean, all those scenarios are a possibility. And so, that pales in comparison and you’re right, those side effects are just signs of an active immune system doing what it’s supposed to do.

Speaker 2: Yeah. And I think the side effects that are more associated with the virus itself, I think are easily explained away. You’re having an immune reaction to a version of the symptoms that come along with the virus. But one of the questions that we’ve seen frequently on social media and trending on Google is why is there pain at the injection site? When you get an intermuscular injection, why is your arm sore afterward? Can you answer that for us?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Yeah. The thing that we always try to illustrate, at least I try to illustrate with patients is, when you get sick, when you get fever, when you get chills, when you get muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, all that stuff, it’s not always directly because of the infectious agent that your body has been exposed to. It’s actually your immune system. And so, a lot of those symptoms, especially the soreness at the muscle site is because your immune system is reacting. Why is it localized? Well, because what the vaccine does, it sets up shop exactly at that location where the proteins are injected. Okay. And so, what happens is with your white blood cells, all the other cascade effects and with your immune system, reacts at that particular location.

So, it’s centered on that particular location, and not to go all into the immunology behind it, but long story short, that’s where the action takes place. That’s exactly where things are set up. And so, that’s why you have those symptoms there, but it’s not because you’re coming down with the disease. It’s just your body is having an immune response and producing those antibodies. One of the things that the immune system’s job is supposed to do is to alert you that something’s there. So, it’s just playing on its natural ability and its natural characteristic.

Speaker 4: I don’t want to get off too on a tangent, but is that the reason why Moderna was required to be kept at such a low temperature because they needed that degree in order to make its way to the mRNA, like you mentioned from the injection site?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: The reason behind the extreme low temperatures is that normally during vaccine production, such as we’ll just … Varicella, hepatitis B or hepatitis A, some of the other regular refrigerator temperature is, a lot of the vaccines have preservatives in there. And the reason why they have preservatives in there is to prolong their shelf life, and also prevent any microbial growth in those particular bottles. But the messenger RNA vaccines, both Pfizer and Moderna, currently at the date of this podcast, are so frigidly low is because they’re probably one of the most pure vaccines. They have no antibiotics in it. They have no preservatives in there. And just pretty much are just the lipid texture and the protein, the messenger RNA protein, and different saline and sugars to help stabilize it, of course, but there’s no antibiotics in it. There’s no preservatives in it.

Speaker 4: Oh, okay.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: So to take that out, you have to compensate and make sure that there’s no anti-microbial growth. And so, to do that, these vaccines are held at extremely low temperatures to prevent that from growing in those vials. So, that’s the reason why, and also messenger RNA is extremely instable, so you have to keep it at a low temperature. If it goes above certain degrees temperature that protein becomes unstable and your vaccine becomes not viable in regards to what it’s supposed to do.

Speaker 2: Wow.

Speaker 4: That’s fascinating.

Speaker 2: That is. We’ve talked a lot about COVID-19 and the vaccine over the past few months on different podcast episodes and it’s the first time I really understand the temperature.

Speaker 4: Yes.

Speaker 2: So, that was great. So, you mentioned a couple of different ways of achieving immunity, both physiologically or by the vaccine. And next on the list that was prepared by the American Academy of Family Physicians on reasons that people are hesitant, was a preference for that physiological immunity. Have you seen this in your patients or practice, or can you talk to us about why people may have the perception that the physiological immunity is more powerful or somehow better than receiving the vaccine?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Well, I think it goes by when we look at the history of vaccines, you go from whatever disease entity we talk about, small pox, polio, measles. There’s always been a hesitancy there. That’s always been the nature of individuals when dealing in community. And I think it’s just because of the nature … One, because of the nature of the vaccine, right? I mean, it’s somewhat just intrusive just a little bit, just as far as a needle injection. And then, you start playing on people’s false information that’s out there in regards to the safety of these vaccines. And truth be told, we also have to address the other things in the room as well. The practice of medicine, there’s been some dark chapters with vaccines, right?

Speaker 4: Yeah. Like the Tuskegee experiment.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Tuskegee experiment, obviously dealing with a different infectious agent within the African American community being experimented on as far as allowing syphilis, okay, STD, to progress through a community and observing them. But specifically in the 1950s, the Cutter incident that occurred in California, when during the height of the polio epidemic, there was a particular pharmaceutical company, Cutter, in California that actually sidestepped some of the steps in production of the vaccine. And in such, there was actually instead of an inactivated polio, it was actually live. And so, individuals were actually being injected with live polio. During that time, about 120,000 children were exposed to the vaccine at that time. About 40,000 got sick. 50 individuals became paralyzed. And five children died during that incident.

We’ll fast forward it to 1976, the swine flu incident during then that time, Gerald Ford, president at the time was under the gun for re-election against Jimmy Carter at the time. But one of the things that happened at Fort Dix was the swine flu. And this was big. And you got to go back in time because the swine flu immunologically is to some degree similar to the influenza of 1918. So during that time, he had to make a decision whether to mass produce a swine influenza seasonal vaccine to combat that particular epidemic. CDC during that time said, “Hey, hold on, let’s see how this goes.” But one of the marketing things during that time that Gerald Ford was, “Every child, every adult, every man, woman, will be vaccinated.” We saw a political spin with this.

Long story short, there was a mass production of seasonal influenza. Well, during that time, some of the vials actually had live influenza strands. And so, during that time, 450 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome occurred, which is a neurological symptom, auto-immune neurological symptom. And the actual swine flu incident, it was mild. It was a call that he had to make, it was a political spin, but it was mild. And so, when you go get your flu shot, when they ask you, “Have you ever had Guillain-Barre?” It’s because of that-

Speaker 4: That’s why. Wow.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: So, why do I share that? It’s because, fast forward to now, when people see mass production of vaccine, you have different generations who look back on those incidents and say, “Yeah, you said that last time and look where we’re at.”

Speaker 4: Right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: But we have to address those issues why they’re at and why this is not the polio and not the seasonal influenza. Sorry I took my time on that.

Speaker 2: No, that-

Speaker 4: No, that was extremely beneficial, I think, because I think there’s a tendency to dismiss the fear and to brush it aside like, “Oh, there’s no reason to worry.” But to your point, there are a lot of reasons, valid concerns that people have that deserve acknowledgement and that deserve a thorough explanation like you just gave.

Speaker 2: Yes.

Speaker 4: So, I think that was great.

Speaker 2: Possibly one of the biggest concerns we’re hearing about anecdotally and via the media is distrust in the government and in health organizations, is this something you’re experiencing and what assurance can you offer in that regard?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: First of all, again, acknowledging where people are and you have a right to feel that way because our history is the greatest teacher of our present and our future, right?

Speaker 2: Right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Because it arms us with the knowledge of what to expect in the future. But it’s not apples and oranges, right? This is a pandemic. So, this is affecting humanity, regardless of your social-economic status, your 401k, your race, your religion-

Speaker 2: Or political party.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: All this virus needs is an able body, that’s it. And so, what I try to tell people is that, do your research, do your reading up on these vaccines. And of course, diffuse all through the information that which is negative and positive. And what I mean by that is common things I get to hear about as well, “They made this vaccine way too fast.” I’ll say, “Well, the science behind messenger RNA and vaccines like this, you know this has been since the ’70s, right? This is almost close to 40 years of data.” “Oh no, I didn’t know that.”

Or, “What steps are put in place that makes sure there’s safety?” Well, it’s not just the pharmaceutical companies, but there’s third party checkpoints, live action checkpoints that review research data as it comes out. So, a pharmaceutical company can’t just put out a product and say, “Hey, we got the best data.” Oh, well, we want to see your numbers. And there’s about four or five different agencies who have no bias, no allegiance to any corporate, but to make sure that these vaccines are safe. And when you have the data that’s put out there with the research, stage one, stage two, stage three of a vaccine development. That normally take months and years that are done simultaneously, but they’re done in such a way to one, make sure the product is safe and effective. You can assure it is safe and effective. Doesn’t mean there’s not any side effects or people won’t have side effects, but it is safe and effective when we look at how these vaccines are rolled out. And it’s actually a medical miracle that we’re witnessing right now.

Speaker 2: It’s interesting. I think there’s got to be some element of people weighing their risk. So saying, “Well, the risk of getting COVID in my mind, is less than the risk of the vaccine.” And there’s got to be some of that weighing their options going on back and forth, but what we’re learning and what we’re finding out is that even if you get a mild case … Because I think that’s the perception that’s holding a lot of people back is like, “Well, I might get sick, but I’ll be fine.” Even if they are, the longterm effects that this virus is proving to have in a variety of body systems for months to now we’re seeing up to 12 years of data coming out. Those are proving extremely significant for folks.

Speaker 4: Long COVID is, we’ve put out some content on that and it’s startling and alarming, of the repercussions that you have to deal with for years to come that we still don’t know all the full effects of.

Speaker 2: Right. And that’s part of the hesitancy in the vaccine right, too?

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Speaker 2: Is that people are saying, “Well, we don’t know what this is going to look like in five, 10 years, what are the long-term effects of the vaccine?” But on the flip side of that coin, we still don’t know what these long COVID effects are going to be in five or 10 years.

Speaker 4: Exactly.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Right. And the thing that I try to illustrate with patients is this, whatever protocol you have in your mind, whatever schema you have, how your body usually reacts to a cold or a flu or an illness, “I usually bounce back. This is my concoction that I use. When I get a cold, I get the turmeric, I get the vitamin C, I get my rest.” COVID-19 has dismantled all of that. Why is that? Well, first of all, it’s a pandemic. So, normally, normal colds, flu, yeah they pop up in different areas, but it doesn’t involve the whole globe on a mass infection this way. Second, I usually tell patients, our bodies are designed such that … I use this analogy like Men in Black, do you remember the movie Men in Black?

Speaker 4: Oh yeah.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: The people are walking, right? And all these ghouls and goblins are all around. And you have the agents in there, they’re flashing. And while you’re walking, they’re protecting you from all the ghouls and goblins. Well, the reason why you get so healthy and so bounced back is because your immune system, whether it’s the T-cells or the B-cells, they have an extraordinary catalog of memory. So, when they see something they say, “Okay, yeah, we’ve seen that before. Oh yeah, we got this. Okay. Yep. Oh, okay. We got this.” And so, they bounce back just because you have a healthy immune system that can go back on the catalog and say, “Hey, you know what? We got people to take care of this.” The problem with COVID-19 is nobody’s seen it before-

Speaker 4: They’ve never seen it before. Right.

Speaker 2: That’s true.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: So, you don’t know how it’s going to happen. You don’t know what the Russian Roulette or the dice are going to play. And there’s no do-overs. So when it happens, when you go quickly from a mild cold to muscle aches, to typical viral symptoms, to respiratory distress, to respiratory failure. By the time you cascade down, there’s no turning back and you don’t know how the outcome is going to be. So, it’s one of those things that I try to tell patients is, “There’s two knowns that you have, right now, a vaccine that is safe and effective. And yes, some side effects that are beneficial to protect you. And then you have a known killer out there, which is COVID-19.” “Well, why do you say it’s a known killer?” “Because we’re in a pandemic, you don’t get a pandemic level without it being something mild.”

And so, it was just one of those things that people have to research for themselves, look at their own health, their own comorbidities, which other diseases that they’re dealing with, that COVID-19 plays on and will hinder and make it more of a bad outcome for you than to have something on board and be protected. And so, it’s an individual’s decision that people have to make, but it’s been a definitely win-win when it comes to this vaccine in regards to safety and efficacy.

Speaker 4: Well, that individual’s decision is perfect lead into our last point that we want to make with you. It’s the most controversial, it’s autonomy and personal freedom. How can we address this? How do we share the facts to move the needle on vaccine hesitancy without making people feel coerced?

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Yeah. I think it’s one of those things that being board certified in both, I have it on both spectrums, as a pediatrician, I’m transparent. I share a lot … When I have parents come in and they ask me, “Do your kids get these vaccines?” “Every single vaccine that your child has, my two girls have received.” “What about you? Did you take the…” Second week that it rolled out, I rolled up my sleeves and took the vaccine.

Speaker 4: Sure.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Because if I’m going to recommend it to you all, I have to be in the frontline at least say I’m doing it myself.

Speaker 2: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: The second thing I try to say is, when it comes to decisions, you have to make that decision on your own. Nobody can make it for you, but do the research, read about it and weigh the pros and cons of it, the benefits of it. Okay? You’ll be surprised. There’s a certain percentage right now, currently when it comes to vaccine hesitancy. There’s a percent of population, no matter what you say, they’re just not going to do it.

Speaker 4: Right.

Speaker 2: Sure.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: They’re not. And percentage-wise and looking progress-wise, those individuals are not going to get the vaccine. That’s where the herd immunity is truly going to protect. But on the fence, the people that are like, “Well, I’m going to wait it out to see what the outcomes are going to be.” The middle of the ground, that’s the target that we’re definitely trying to at least put emphasis and say, “Yeah, while you’re waiting, you’re still at risk. And so, truly think about it.” And then of course, there’s the other percentage of individuals who just want to weigh the facts and have it put in layman’s terms, what the vaccine is, what it’s not.

And I actually have not been seeing a lot of hesitancy or at least the ones that have been on the fence, have gotten the vaccine either because of personal history, they known somebody who’s passed away of COVID. And it’s just really real. I know it’s affected me personally, I had COVID in December and got the vaccine shortly after that. And I’ve had colleagues, close colleagues that have died from COVID. Even their profiles don’t even match up what … They weren’t multiple co-morbidities one was a star athlete. So, I try to share that with individuals and say, “Hey look, whatever protocol you have in your mind that you think you can beat this virus. No, you-

Speaker 4: That’s the scary part about this.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: … really got to do some soul-searching on this. But I’m just here to lay the facts for you. Answer the questions, but the ultimate decision is yours and I respect that.” And people need to respect that.

Speaker 2: Yeah. I think that’s a great point. And I think like you’re saying, a lot of the stuff that you’ve shared with us today is stuff that I’m hearing for the first time.

Speaker 4: Me too.

Speaker 2: And it’s been very, very beneficial, I think, and answers a lot of those questions and addresses a lot of the fears and concerns that we’ve heard anecdotally through social media and our work with the public. And I think a lot of what you’re saying is there’s a real lack of information or correct information.

Speaker 4: That’s exactly right.

Speaker 2: And there’s a real lack of people explaining it in a way that the average person can not only understand and take with them, but then go out and repeat to their friends and family.

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Speaker 2: And a lot of what is getting trickled down or fed is that information that is shocking. That’s easy to regurgitate. And so, the more that we can share information like this, with facts and with the explanation of history to go behind it, I think is so valuable.

Speaker 4: This was digestible, for sure.

Speaker 2: And moving us closer to where we need to be. Because like you said, we looked at some research too, that showed that group of people who are on the fence, they’re not anti-vaxxers, but they weren’t first to jump in line. That’s our biggest group right now.

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Speaker 2: The anti-vax group was actually relatively small in the data that we saw.

Speaker 4: But this is so timely, this discussion and us putting out this episode with the way that we’re relaxing the mask policies and people are out more, larger gatherings. This is the time to make that decision.

Speaker 2: It is because, I think we have gone to such length for a year to keep the exposure down.

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Speaker 2: And now more people are getting vaccinated, but like you said, we need to be at 85% to be herd immune. And right now we’re barely at 50. So, the concern I think, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, Dr. Gilliam, is that as we relax these mandates, as we move away from mandatory masking and open back up to 100% capacity at places like restaurants and outdoor events and concerts, that we might see a spike again, if people are not vaccinated.

Speaker 4: It’s already June 1st and we’re still not certain what’s going to happen this fall.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Right. And I think the other thing too, is just that level of respect. I mean, there’s some individuals who got completely vaccinated, who are still wearing their mask. The data’s out there that once that you have been completely vaccinated, your transmission to other individuals is extremely low. Okay? Even if you get exposed now, there’s a positive, you don’t have to quarantine. If you’ve been properly vaccinated. We’re seeing individuals, families, even my family had a small gathering a few weeks ago, everybody was vaccinated. And it was the first time my mother saw her grandchildren face-to-face and hugged them in over a year. So, we’re seeing glimpse of that, of awakening out of the pandemic. But if you want to have that type of embracement, you’ve got to play by the rules or at least do it in such that you decrease the risk of other individuals there. But fear, hesitancy, it’s a normal, healthy emotion. It alerts you. But what we don’t want fear to do is immobilize you and not do anything.

Speaker 4: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Okay? And so, I think as the pandemic goes forward, we’ll see things open up and get back to a different normal, but please respect it. And if you don’t think that’s true, look at India right now, two different spectrums of the world, still going through a pandemic and they’re not out of it yet. And so, all that just to say is, people do your research, ask questions. If you have got the vaccine, go ahead and share that with individuals. Okay? So, share your testimony.

Speaker 4: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: And that’s been a big thing. I mean, people have been having ice bucket challenge and all this other challenge. People been rolling up their sleeves, showing their badges and making it fun. It’s a mark of the ending of a pandemic. You’re going to remember where you were during COVID-19. You’re going to remember … These are the things you’re going to share with generations to come. And yes, there will probably be more pandemics, but as the science gets better, as we see proof that things work, it’s actually the best time to be in a pandemic medical science wise. It really is. I mean, influenza in 1918, didn’t have any of this stuff. And by God’s grace and fate, that virus died out. Thank goodness. But look what destruction it took with them.

Speaker 2: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: But look how much we’ve stopped at least up to this point, but we’re battling still the hesitancy, all the other things that come with each pandemic. But I think as things get more educated, people become more familiar. Science is your friend not your foe, but you have to have knowledge of what’s being given to you. Okay? And so, yeah.

Speaker 4: I love it. Yep.

Speaker 2: There’s like you said, a lot of fear on both sides still, but leaning into that fear and asking the right questions and embracing it, and respecting your fellow neighbor is where we need to go. And just so fortunate and blessed that we live in a place and in a time where anyone who wants this vaccine can get it. That we have access. That we have exceptional medical care. Yeah. We’re just blessed and fortunate.

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: And it’s free. All the different barriers is … And I just have to share this. When we look at the pandemic, when we look at science, we have to look at the different cultural views. African-Americans are looking at it differently. The Tuskegee experiment holds in our community of what the government did and that’s to this date, it’s the most longest, unethical human experiment on US soil-

Speaker 2: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: … is the Tuskegee experiment. So, we’re ruined with those scars. You talk to the Hispanic community, almost 25%, maybe even higher, are undocumented immigrants. So, they’re scared to come out because they’re fearful that you have to give up some type of residential status to get the vaccine, or somehow ICE is going to be there. So, all these different fears, but the same pandemic. But culturally, once we educate people about what this is, to my African-American viewers, the information is there, you know what the information is there and you can read about it. Tuskegee experiment, the information was withheld.

Speaker 2: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: The community was left in the dark, but my Hispanic listeners and viewers, there’s no immigration status on getting the vaccine. None of that information, there’s no insurance cards required. You just simply register, get vaccinated. And if they do track individuals, it’s just to make sure individuals tracking side effects and that’s done with an app. Again, no personal information. If you have side effects and want to report it, it helps out in the long run.

And so, same pandemic, different eyes, but mutual respect and understanding is what we need to get through this. This is a state of humanity, not just individual barriers and issues. Okay? Although, those things are there to exist, different barriers, and that’s a different topic another time, but just moving through and understanding that this is humanity, regardless of what you have, COVID-19 does not care.

Speaker 2: That’s right.

Dr. Jai Gilliam: Okay. And so, just want to get that to individuals.

Speaker 2: Well, Dr. Jay Gilliam, it has been an absolute pleasure and honor. This has been a really, really informative and valuable conversation that we know is going to help a lot of people. We hope to have you back on the show again soon. And for those of you listening, if you’d like to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, read testimonies from our medical staff about their why, why they chose to get vaccinated and to find a vaccine location near you, you can visit baptisthealth.com/vaccine. We’ll see you next time on Health Talks NOW.

Speaker 1: Thanks for tuning in to Health Talks NOW. Staying healthy is a lifelong commitment and Baptist Health can provide the support you need to lower your risks, improve your quality of life, and protect your longterm health. Visit baptisthealth.com to hear our other podcasts, learn about our services and find more tips to help you stay a step ahead of your health. Baptist Health, be a healthier you.

This podcast is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as medical advice. The content in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This podcast is not designed to replace a physician’s medical assessment and medical judgment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions or concerns you may have related to your personal health or regarding specific medical conditions. To find a Baptist Health provider, please visit baptisthealth.com.


Next Steps and Useful Resources:

Learn More About the COVID-19 Vaccine
My Why: Vaccine Testimonies from the Frontline
Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Impact Women’s Periods?
How Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Affect Immunocompromised People?

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