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Why the wait for a vaccine? 'You don't want to be the guinea pig, the first one'

Long Islanders share why they finally decided to

Long Islanders share why they finally decided to get vaccinated after months of eligibility. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost; James Carbone

Maryann Reina has been eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for four months. But the Central Islip woman just got her second vaccine dose on Thursday.

"You don’t want to be the guinea pig, the first one," said Reina, 60, after she and her husband, Hugo Reina, 68, received the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Hauppauge, three weeks after getting the first dose. "You want to wait to see what happens to everyone else."

The number of Long Islanders receiving vaccines has fallen sharply over the past several weeks, as it has statewide and nationally. But thousands of residents are still getting the shot every day, more than three months after New York made all residents 16 and older eligible for vaccinations and two months after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized for kids 12 to 15.

What to know

The number of Long Islanders receiving COVID-19 vaccines has plummeted in recent weeks, as it has statewide, but thousands of residents are still getting inoculated every day.

Some residents who recently got vaccinated said they had wanted to see how the vaccines affected others before getting the shot, while others initially were deterred by false or misleading vaccine information.

Ten percent of Americans continue to take a “wait-and-see” approach to vaccination, while 20% said they definitely will not get vaccinated or will do so only if required, according to a recent survey.

Like Reina, many wanted to see how the vaccine affected others before getting inoculated. In a December Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 39% of U.S. adults said they would take a "wait-and-see" approach to the vaccine. In the most recent Kaiser survey, released June 30, 10% still wanted to "wait and see," and 20% said they would either definitely not get vaccinated or would do so only if required.

Eugenia Vargas, 92, of Selden, has been eligible for the vaccine since Jan. 11. But, "I thought it was dangerous," and possibly even deadly, because of what she read on Facebook and saw on television, she said in Spanish. So she didn’t take it.

Then the granddaughter with whom she lives, Carmen Fajardo, 52, got vaccinated, as did other family members.

"When she saw her daughter — my mom — my three children, my husband, all vaccinated with no problem, no pain, no reaction, she said, ‘I want to get it, too,’ " Fajardo said.

Vargas got her second shot on Thursday in Hauppauge. Now, Vargas said, "I feel comfortable being vaccinated" and is looking forward to seeing a daughter and 10 grandchildren she hasn't seen since before the pandemic.

Social media played a role

False or misleading vaccine information people see on social media or hear from friends and family is a key reason why many patients at the Roosevelt Family Health Center hesitated to get vaccinated, said Marlene Canell, nurse manager at the nonprofit center, which is run by Long Island FQHC.

"We educate them, saying the vaccine is safe," she said.

"Sometimes they ask us as health workers, ‘Did you take the vaccine?’ " said Sybil Obas, practice manager in Roosevelt. "When we say yes, they respond, ‘OK, I’ll take it.’ "

Many immigrants living in the country without legal authorization avoided getting the shot for fear that doing so could make it easier for the government to track them down, Obas said. As word spread that center employees do not ask about immigration status and that the vaccine is free, more immigrants have come in, she said.

Sonia Gonzalez, 45, of Roosevelt, said neighbors told her that, " ‘If you take the vaccine, it could give you COVID.’ So I was afraid."

The vaccines cannot transmit the coronavirus, scientists say.

Then her husband and son got the shot. "Nothing bad happened to them, so that’s why I’m getting the vaccine," Gonzalez said in Spanish before getting the first dose of the Moderna vaccine at the Roosevelt center.

Maria Rojas Reyes, 40, of Roosevelt, said in Spanish that she had long been undecided about whether to get vaccinated until her mother got the shot and urged her to get inoculated as well.

The Roosevelt center now administers about 20 vaccines a day, down from 50 several months ago, Obas said.

That is not as sharp a drop as at other sites on Long Island. At the state’s Stony Brook University mass-vaccination site, for example, the number of weekly shots fell from a peak of 18,626 for the week ending March 27 to 1,383 for the week ending July 3, according to state Health Department data. Dwindling demand led the state to close its Suffolk Community College site in Brentwood effective Friday.

Nassau and Suffolk counties closed their mass vaccination sites, with Suffolk now offering the vaccine several times a week at rotating locations, and Nassau administering it once a week in Mineola, officials with the counties said.

Hesitation was there for teenage sons

Emma Collins, 46, of Dix Hills, was comfortable getting vaccinated more than two months ago. But she hesitated when it came to sons Christian, 16, and Daniel, 13.

"Because of their ages — they’re going through puberty and they’re developing — I was just concerned it might affect their development, and also because everybody was bringing up the fertility issues, that it may be an issue down the road," Collins said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no evidence that any vaccine — including the COVID-19 vaccine — will cause fertility problems.

Collins said a conversation with her doctor, including him saying his own children received the vaccine, persuaded her to get Christian and Daniel inoculated. They got their second doses on Thursday.

"He said getting the vaccination would be better in the long run than not getting the vaccination, because the long-term effects of getting the virus may be worse than the [possible] long-term effects of getting the vaccination," she said.

Medical experts say negative effects from any vaccine almost always surface within a few weeks, and that the rare serious side effects linked to the coronavirus inoculation are far less common than severe effects of the virus itself.

Julian Cabrera, 12, of Brentwood, said he wasn’t worried about getting sick with COVID-19.

"Young people don’t really get that affected by it," he said — although the American Academy of Pediatrics said that 335 U.S. children have died of the disease as of July 1, and more than 16,500 have been hospitalized.

Julian’s motivation for getting his first shot Thursday is that "I saw how people don’t have to wear masks" after inoculation.

And, he said, "I’m going to go to more places" post-vaccination, such as, he hopes, a water park.

His mother, Dalia Cabrera, 33, said she wanted him inoculated to protect his grandparents and other family members. And, she said, "I don’t want him to get sick."

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