Originally published in the Fresno Bee.


For the last year, Californians have done all we can to limit the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks, physically distancing and avoiding crowds. But we’ve known all along these tactics wouldn’t defeat the virus. To achieve that, we would need a vaccine.

But now that multiple vaccines have been developed and approved in record time, we’re seeing a significant number of people delay or refuse getting a shot in the arm.

Some counties like Fresno and Madera have seen only about one-third of residents start the vaccination process, compared to nearly two-thirds in other counties. And it’s not an issue of supply — Fresno has sent surplus vaccine doses to other counties.

Experts have identified a number of reasons for this so-called vaccine hesitancy, and each is worthy of rebuttal.

One reason people are hesitating to get the vaccine is concern over potential side effects, which range from a sore arm to a headache, fatigue and sometimes fever. But medical experts say any side effects are generally brief, lasting no more than a few days, and serious side effects are extremely rare.

Others question the long-term safety of the vaccines, saying the speed with which they were developed could mean we don’t understand potential harmful effects over time. While it’s true the development phase went quickly, that’s because development of coronavirus vaccines was already in full gear after the 2003 SARS and 2012 MERS outbreaks. It was fast, but only because the groundwork had already been laid from our responses to previous diseases.

Another concern is cost. Some worry that they won’t be able to afford the vaccine; in fact, the vaccine is free to everyone. The message of universal access to the vaccine is one that need to be spread far and wide.

Many who haven’t been vaccinated aren’t absolute in their reluctance, the so-called “wait and see” demographic. But now that 130 million Americans have received at least one shot, the data is clear: The vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and will help protect you, your family, your friends and people around you.

Two other reasons for not getting a vaccine are more troubling: a lack of basic information and exposure to false information.

A recent poll found that many people still don’t have enough information about when they’ll be eligible for a vaccine or where to get one.

Thankfully, California has addressed that information deficit head-on. The website in particular has been a big help. By answering a few simple questions, anyone over the age of 12 can now easily schedule a vaccine on that website.

The state has also created a number of information resources for those who want to learn more. The website is a one-stop shop for all things related to COVID-19 and it’s worth a look. The CDC website also answers many common questions about COVID-19.

More insidious, however, is the prevalence of misleading or false information.

One common misunderstanding is that someone can contract COVID-19 by getting the vaccine. That’s simply not true. There is no way to get the virus from the vaccine, it’s simply not the way these vaccines work and this is a misperception that must be quashed.

The website has a wide range of rebuttals to COVID-19 misinformation and is a trustworthy source to rebut false statements about the virus and the vaccine.

The good news is that the number of Americans getting vaccinated continues to rise. Kaiser Family Foundation found that almost two-thirds of Americans have either already received at least one vaccine shot or will get the vaccine as soon as they can. The numbers are even higher for those over the age of 65 (82 percent) and those with serious health conditions (70 percent).

For those who continue to delay, please know that the vaccines are safe, effective and free. Most importantly, they will allow us to return to normal — seeing friends and family without concern of spreading or contracting the disease.

If you’ve been vaccinated, please urge your family, friends and neighbors follow suit. And if you haven’t received a shot yet, please do so as soon as you can. The vaccines are our path back to normal. Let’s make this happen.

Dianne Feinstein is the senior U.S. senator from California.