Experts say vaccine hesitancy to blame as COVID numbers rise again in Miami-Dade, Broward

Most hospitalizations are people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, medical experts say

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is causing hospitalizations to go up and the pandemic to continue to linger, experts say.

MIAMI, Fla. – The director of the Centers for Disease Control said that this summer we are in a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” According to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, 97 percent of people who are entering the hospital currently are unvaccinated.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data documents display vaccine hesitancy in Miami-Dade County and Broward County. The data also shows that in certain areas of South Florida it is estimated upwards of 8 percent of the population remain “strongly hesitant.”

Last April, infectious disease experts said that fighting vaccine hesitancy would be critical to the on-going battle against COVID-19.

Now in July, with the unvaccinated filling up hospital beds in South Florida, vaccine hesitancy is once again worrying community leaders, health-care workers, and public health officials.

Infectious disease experts like Marty are working to tackle misconceptions, such as the argument of “natural immunity and a belief system that catching COVID is somehow better than being vaccinated.

“There is no advantage to getting infected with the actual virus, whereas there is a real advantage to getting the vaccine. It is going to reduce your risk of severe disease, death, and ‘long’ COVID,” Marty said.

She added that “we really need to get to vaccine herd immunity because that’s when you really shut off the valve to make more variants and spread the disease further.”

The CDC recently reported that it is estimated that more than 60 percent of all cases stem from the highly contagious Delta variant. Marty said that the unvaccinated are not only getting more sick but risking the health of those fully vaccinated.

“These Delta variant cases are shedding thousands more viral load than the original,” Marty pointed out.

“Now we have these unvaccinated shedding an outrageous amount of virus and, yes, you are vaccinated, but in an enclosed space your immunity can be overwhelmed by these high-dose infections. That’s why I am recommending that people, when they are indoors in poorly ventilated crowded spaces, go back to wearing a mask even if they are fully vaccinated.”

Miami-Dade County issued a joint news release Tuesday from several county leaders, including the mayor and police director, which urged residents to get vaccinated.

“Miami-Dade has already achieved a vaccination rate of over 75 percent, according to Florida Department of Health data – an enormous milestone, and a major factor in keeping positivity rates down relative to other parts of the state. But COVID variants pose a real and growing threat, and we can’t stop now,” the statement said.

In Broward County, Mayor Steve Geller is both frustrated and flummoxed as he witnesses the number of cases that have tripled in his county over the last two weeks despite the vaccine being available and accessible.

“I just don’t understand this,” he told Local 10 News. “We are in the middle of an exploding health crisis which is entirely preventable. The hospitalizations are preventable. I am horrified and hope that people will fix this, will protect themselves, their friends, their family, their community and their country and do the patriotic thing and get vaccinated.”

NSU political science professor Charles Zelden said the nation is also dealing with increasing “vaccine opposition” from those who are viewing vaccination efforts through a political lens.

“It really is right now tied into conservative political ideology,” Zelden said. “There are those within the conservative movement who see that the government pushing this makes it a bad idea, ‘it should be your idea, it should your choice, not the government’s’. Even though what the government is pointing out is this is good for you and for society and good for the nation, there are not buying it.”

He adds that for hyper-partisans, “their sense of their world is shaped by political sense of reality. Right now that reality, largely at the urging of their political leaders and political shapers, is that the pandemic isn’t as bad as it seems to be and that the vaccine is a bad idea. Until we can get people to change that attitude, we are at risk and it is a risk not just for the unvaccinated, although they pay the highest risk, but ultimately a risk for the rest of us.”

Zelden believes to overcome partisan-fueled vaccine hesitancy may require conservative leaders advocating for the vaccine including Republican lawmakers who have already protected themselves with the vaccine. He includes in that group former President Donald Trump.

“Ultimately the one it is harming are Republicans supporters, the people choosing not to be vaccinated, they pay the highest risk,” he said. “What we really need is for Republican thought-shapers to step up and say it is time to get vaccinated.”

In addition to another virus hampering vaccine efforts, misinformation about the vaccine continues spreading online.

Geller continues to urge residents to get vaccinated. “It is astonishing to me that we have come up with a miracle, a way of stopping the pandemic in its tracks, and so many are refusing to do it, for political reasons, for other reasons. Get vaccinated, protect yourself.”

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."