From hesitancy to hope: Fort Jackson officials see positive shift in vaccination rates

Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 8:14 PM EDT
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FORT JACKSON, S.C. (WIS) - Walking into the Fort Jackson vaccine clinic Monday, Lt. Col. Matt Hanna said he sees a battle in progress. And losing isn’t an option.

The enemy is faceless, nameless and travels as fast as the coronavirus itself: disinformation.

“From ‘hey there is a microchip in this vaccine,’ to ‘it’s going to affect fertility’ -- you name it, we’ve heard it,” Hanna said of the false information he has heard on base.

With every false rumor circulating online, like that the vaccine will impact male fertility, Hanna arms himself with the facts and is ready to sit down with anyone who even slightly believes the disinformation.

According to medical command senior leader Dr. James West, about 40 to 50 percent of people on the post have received a dose of the vaccine. A spokesperson for the hospital on base said he would not give specific numbers due to security concerns.

The Department of Defense does not mandate the vaccine at this time, according to its website, which reads:

“The vaccine will be offered on a voluntary basis. Priority populations are highly encouraged to receive the vaccine. When formally licensed by the FDA, the DOD may require a vaccine for military personnel or personnel in specific fields, as is the case for the influenza vaccine.”

Dr. West said after the surge of excitement for the vaccine amongst older people on base, younger people were less interested in getting vaccinated.

West and Hanna both believe confidence in the vaccine has been increasing.

“We’ve seen a shift in the past month,” Hanna said. “You get two or three people in a group, they get vaccinated, they do perfectly fine with it. ‘Hey you did great let me get mine,’ so it kind of rolls.”

Getting groups of friends to take the shot and spread the word is just one of his strategies for defeating false rumors about the virus. The other is being open to addressing the enemy head-on.

“We do our best to educate and put those rumors to bed, but some days you’re just fighting an uphill battle,” he said.

Hanna invites skeptical people to come to the vaccination site even if they have no plans of getting the shot. He then sits people down one-on-one and answers any and all questions they may have.

“I’ve had dependents in here with tears in their eyes, soldiers with tears in their eyes. [I tell them], ‘hey, it’s ok, we will answer your questions, we will make sure you’re comfortable to get the vaccine,’” he said.

His other method is talking about his own personal experience with the vaccine. Hanna said a lot of people in his family were hesitant at first, but now everyone eligible to get the shot is fully vaccinated.

“Some of it is just me saying, ‘hey, I’ve been vaccinated, my wife has been vaccinated, my 16-year-old daughter and my 19-year-old have both been vaccinated,’” he explained. “If I didn’t feel it was safe, I wouldn’t have gotten vaccinated myself and neither would my family.”

After losing a family member to the virus, Hanna was determined to make sure the rest of his family was protected.

When he is able to bring someone over the hesitancy hump, especially someone who can now get back to normal after sacrificing so much for the country, he says it feels amazing.

“It’s been one of the most powerful moments in my medical career,” Hanna said.

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