'This isn't a brand new vaccine': Doctor stresses educating public amid reluctance from residents

Health professionals are pushing to educate the public as data shows less-than-ideal vaccination rates in some areas. 

As Orange County enters the yellow tier Wednesday, statistics show about 54% of the county's 3.2 million residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, a number that's lower than the 70% or more needed to reach herd immunity. Orange County health officials previously stated they would like to reach herd immunity by the Fourth of July.  

"Herd immunity does take a significant amount of the population to be vaccinated or have natural immunity through being infected with COVID-19 itself. At least about 70 percent, upwards 90 percent depending on the actual disease [for herd immunity]. It really does require more people to get vaccinated in order for us to return to normalcy," said Dr. Mona Shah. 

Dr. Mona Shah, an Internal Medicine Physician, is leading COVID-19 vaccination efforts for Kaiser Permanente and is spreading educational information about vaccine development. 

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"I think it's very important for people to realize that a lot of this vaccine development has actually been in motion since 2002 when the first SARS virus came out back in china and then with the MERS virus back in 2013. Both times they started pre-clinical development for the vaccines, targeting the same exact protein that we use in our current vaccine technology now. This is not just completely brand new and none of the steps were skipped in arriving to the point where we are today," said Shah.


Shah said the mRNA technology used in Pfizer and Moderna vaccines isn't new either.

"The mRNA technology started getting tested 30 years ago, believe it or not. It's also used in other treatments, including cancer drug therapies so a lot of these things are not as new as they thought they are. I truly believe it's about education. People are hesitant for a reason. It seems like it came out quickly and in all honesty, it did, and it's our job as scientists, physicians, as health care providers to dig up all the information, make sure that it is factual, make sure it's effective, make sure it's safe for our patients," said Shah. 

Shah also addressed concerns some people have about the vaccines being FDA-approved for emergency use only.  

"These vaccines are all under what's called emergency use authorization by the FDA. In order for it to be approved by this process, it has to be at least 50% effective and it has to prove a good safety record and clearly all the vaccines on the market have done so," said Shah.

Dr. Shah said one group to target to ease concerns about vaccinations is the younger population. 

"There's a lot of hesitancy [from the younger population] of why do I need to do it? I'm not going to die from COVID-19, but the reality is young people do get COVID-19 and though the mortality rate, meaning the death rate in that population is not as high as elderly of course, there are a lot of repercussions to getting COVID-19," said Shah.

Shah said she has seen patients who are younger who have unrelenting shortness of breath, brain fog, chronic daily headaches and other side effects following a COVID-19 infection. 

In the U.S., only 37% of people are fully vaccinated, and in California, the number stands at 39%. Here in Los Angeles County, about 44% of residents are fully vaccinated.

RELATED: Nearly 56% of Los Angeles County residents not yet fully vaccinated, health officials say