Vaccine regret went mainstream this week. Fear of getting sick could finally be encouraging some Americans to get their shots.

coronavirus hospital texas
Dr. Joseph Varon (right) speaks to a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas on December 29, 2020.

  • Several hospitalized coronavirus patients expressed regret this week for not getting vaccinated.
  • Their stories may be resonating with other unvaccinated Americans.
  • Vaccination rates are increasing in states with recent COVID-19 surges like Arkansas and Louisiana.
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US health authorities are calling it “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” In the last two weeks, average COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen more than 50%, with unvaccinated people now representing the vast majority – around 97% – of hospitalized cases, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For many of these patients, their illness was a wake-up call.

“I’m admitting young, healthy people to the hospital with very serious COVID infections,” Dr. Brytney Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote on Facebook on Sunday. “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

Several other hospitalized patients publicly expressed regret this week for not getting vaccinated.

Amanda Spencer, a 37-year-old woman from Ohio, told her local news site WBNS-10TV that she was initially worried about side effects from the shot. She spent 11 days in a medically-induced coma after getting COVID-19 in June.

“After what I went through, I would’ve much rather been sick for a couple of days and have the mild symptoms that maybe the shot causes than to go through what I went through,” Spencer said on Thursday.

Abderrahmane Fadi, a 60-year-old science teacher in the UK, told the BBC that spending nine days in the hospital with COVID-19 was “the punishment I deserve” for not getting vaccinated.

“It’s like a hammer in my head all the time: ‘Why didn’t you have the vaccine? You had all the chances, the opportunities, the appointments, the letters – everything,'” Fadi said.

These stories may be resonating with unvaccinated Americans lately.

Over the last week, the five states with the highest COVID-19 case rates – Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nevada – had higher vaccination rates than the national average, the CDC said. In Louisiana, the number of first doses administered daily has risen 50% in the last two weeks, from roughly 3,600 to 5,400 per day. Arkansas’s daily first doses also rose 85% during that time, from around 2,800 to 5,300 per day.

“Whether it’s seeing loved ones sick or something else, it’s having an impact,” Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health, wrote of COVID-19 surges in states with rising vaccination rates.

Rising cases and hospitalizations could change the minds of vaccine skeptics

covid vaccine
Maryland National Guard Specialist James Truong (right) administers a Moderna vaccine at CASA de Maryland’s Wheaton Welcome Center in Wheaton, Maryland on May 21, 2021.

It’s hard to know exactly why vaccinations have risen in some states and not others. At the national level, average daily vaccinations have actually declined 15% in the last week, even though no state has vaccinated more than 75% of its residents so far, and 16 states haven’t crossed the 50% threshold.

“We can’t really say with any certainty why we’re seeing an uptick in vaccinations,” Mindy Faciane, a public information officer for the Louisiana Department of Health, told Insider. But rising hospitalizations may be having some effect, she added.

“We think some Louisianans are also seeing the rising numbers of cases and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated, seeing the more contagious Delta variant in circulation and how it’s affecting their communities, and understanding that it is really urgent,” Faciane said. “They’re working through whatever questions they may have had about the vaccine and are now extra motivated to protect themselves and their loved ones in a way they hadn’t before.”

Indeed, data collected by The Economist and polling site YouGov indicates that the escalating severity of the pandemic can successfully change the minds of vaccine skeptics. In Taiwan, for instance, people reported that they were more likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine following a spike in cases in May, which forced the country back into a partial lockdown.

“Anecdotally, we are hearing from pharmacists and healthcare providers administering shots that more Arkansans are seeing the urgency in the need to get vaccinated as cases increase in the state,” Arkansas’s state health director, Dr. José Romero, told Insider.

Romero said earlier this month that his department’s vaccination strategy includes highlighting stories of unvaccinated people who became severely ill from COVID-19 – like a couple whose baby was delivered while the mother was still on a ventilator.

“Those people are becoming ambassadors and getting these public service messages out,” Romero said, adding, “This couple in particular exemplifies the view that many, many people have in the state – that is, ‘This is nothing, it’s an insignificant viral infection’ – and really shows the consequences of that type of belief.”

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