Newly Vaccinated In McLean County Explain Why They Waited
Darrion Coe of Bloomington was about to start classes at Heartland Community College. She said she doesn't like needles, but when it came to the COVID-19 vaccine, she didn't really have a say.
“I was forced to get the shot,” she conceded, “by my grandmother.”
Darrion's dad, Derek Coe, took his daughter to a vaccination clinic at their church, Center for Hope Ministries in Bloomington, to get the COVID vaccine. Derek Coe said he wanted to provide extra protection for his daughter as she went back to school.
“I should surely hate to be a person who decided not to get vaccinated and then something bad happens and you (think) maybe I could have prevented it,” Coe said.
McLean County has seen an uptick in COVID vaccinations in recent weeks, but the rate of vaccines going into arms is still much lower that it was when the vaccines first became widely available in the spring.
The Coes are part of a small but growing number of McLean County residents who decided after months of hesitation to get the vaccine. Their reasons for waiting vary.
Derek Coe said he had no desire to be first in line to vaccinate. He wanted to see how others responded to the vaccine before he put it in his arm.
“I’m not a type of person that’s very quick to (do something) just because everybody else is jumping up and doing something. I don’t care about that,” Cox explained. “If everybody else wants to jump off a cliff saying it’s good for your health, I’ll wait and see. I’ll ask you after you hit the bottom.”
Coe said he now believes the vaccine is safe, so he was ready to roll up his sleeve.
County fair clinic
It's people like Coe who are leaving clues for health officials who want to better understand who remains vaccine hesitant.
The McLean County Health Department (MCHD) hosted a walk-in vaccination clinic at the McLean County Fair earlier this month. Jill Young of Bloomington had planned to take her 9-year-old son Isaac to the fair. She said free carnival rides for all vaccines were a nice sweetener, but she planned to get the shot anyway. Young said she lost two grandparents to COVID-19.
Young said she waited so long to vaccinate because she had contracted the coronavirus. Nearly 20,000 McLean County residents have tested positive for the virus.
Young acknowledged she still had hesitation.
“There was a part of me that (thought) I don’t want to put foreign things into my body and I take my health seriously,” Young said. “There’s always that thought, but after seeing so many people get vaccinated and there’s so many incentives to get vaccinated.”
“The overwhelming majority of the people said the Delta variant was frightening them."
Young is a social worker for Unit 5 schools. She said the district's quarantine rules are more relaxed for vaccinated staff who may be exposed to someone who has COVID-19. She said that was another incentive to get the vaccine.
Others said it wasn’t their choice to wait.
Dawson Marshall, who will be a senior at Bloomington High School, said he's wanted to get the vaccine for months, but he struggled to find time until he came upon the vaccine clinic at the fair.
“It’s hard to get time out of my day to do it. I work two part-time jobs,” Marshall said. “It was just convenient. It was something I had time to do. I was at the fair and saw it, so I thought I might as well.”
Marshall said he always wears a mask and wants to go into the medical field. He said it was scary for his family when his father got COVID.
MCHD public affairs coordinator Marianne Manko said many people have delayed getting vaccinated for various reasons; some don't have time, others waited until they got their child's school immunizations.
Manko said health department staff surveyed people at the county fair vaccine clinic and found the highly contagious Delta variant also was a big motivator.
“The overwhelming majority of the people said the Delta variant was frightening them,” Manko said. “They weren’t really sure that they were going to get (the vaccine). Some of them were taking a wait-and-see look and they realize it’s time to stop waiting.”
A COVID scare is what brought Delisha Neal of Normal to a vaccination clinic. At first, Neal said she fought the vaccine.
“Seeing that a lot of people were getting ill off of (COVID) and then to protect others as well,” Neal said. “My son ended up with (COVID) and from there I (thought) maybe I need to rethink.”
Neal's son, Avoni Brown of Bloomington, said he felt chest pressure, lost his appetite, and lost all energy when he contracted the coronavirus. Brown got the vaccine because he didn't want to run the risk that he could go through that again — or spread the virus to someone else.
“I’m athletic. I like to get up and enjoy my days," Brown said. “Lately, the disease I call it, it withholds you from a lot mentally, too. I feel like everyone should get (the vaccine).”
Neal said there's still a lot of hesitation, especially in the Black community, about the vaccine, even though COVID-19 has hit minority communities especially hard. Neal said community outreach has helped.
“By them educating us and telling us that it's OK, and we still have a lot that’s still not OK with taking a vaccine,” Neal said. “It’s a preference, but I’d rather take that chance than not.”
Health officials also have tried to reduce hesitancy by bringing the vaccine to communities that have been most resistant.
Coe said it put him more at ease to get the vaccine at his house of worship.
“It definitely helped it was in a familiar setting with friends and loved ones around to make sure everything runs smoothly,” Coe said. “It makes you feel a lot better that you can laugh and smile with your loved ones around.”
Coe said it helped he could get the COVID vaccine and a blessing in the same place.
Some say they can't get the COVID vaccine because of medical reasons.
Lalena Heidenreich of Bloomington works in home health care. She said she has autoimmune disease, a bad pancreas and numerous drug allergies. Heidenreich said three doctors recommended she not get the vaccine.
Her decision has led to scorn from others, personally and professionally, she said.
“There’s quite a bit of people who think you’re just afraid of it,” Heidenreich said. “It’s not that. There’s quite a few of us in this percent who haven’t gotten it that probably would love to get it.”
President and CEO of Urbana-based Carle Health, Dr. James Leonard, said medical exemptions for the COVID vaccine are limited.
“There’s not many. It’s mainly allergic reactions or immunologic problems that come into consideration and it’s a pretty small number,” he said.
Leonard said a pregnancy does not warrant an exemption, but it may have warranted a delay. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends expecting mothers to get the vaccine. The CDC initially said pregnant women could get the vaccine.
Heidenreich said she's glad to see the CDC recommend everyone wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, so people like her don't get called out at the grocery store for refusing the vaccine. But as the Delta variant keeps flaring up and new cases and hospitalizations rise, Heidenreich said she wonders if she should reconsider getting the vaccine.
According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the rate of COVID vaccinations in McLean County has more than doubled since late July.