CINCINNATI — Family physician Dr. Lou Edje knows that it takes months, and sometimes even years, to develop a long-standing trust with her patients.
She’s hoping those strong relationships that people have with their doctors will be the key component in reaching 80% herd immunity against COVID-19.
Inch-by-inch, she said, change can be made in the context of vaccine discussion, and eventually, those who are vaccine-hesitant will turn into those who are protected.
"We routinely go ahead and annually give 200 million vaccines before COVID started, and so we are experts in doing this, giving vaccines from newborns all the way through,” Edje said. "This is a space that we can go ahead and step in and make sure the folks that are not vaccinated yet have meaningful discussions with their physicians and go ahead and get vaccinated so that the pool for variants to happen is much, much less and we can move toward herd immunity."
Edje said that if the coronavirus is a lock, then the COVID-19 vaccine is a key. The virus variants, like the B.1.1.7 variant and others, are also locks, but she hopes those variants don’t change so much that a new key would need to be made. Research has shown that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines do a good job of combating those variants, but Edje said if there’s still a large pool of those who are unvaccinated, the virus has a chance to mutate and change the credibility of the vaccine.
That doctor-patient relationship is still the most effective way to get those through the door that aren’t sure the vaccine is right for them, Edje said.
"I have one patient, for example, I’ve convinced to get the vaccine,” she said. “She's like as soon as it gets to your office, I'll do it. Well, now I can tell her we are this much closer to have those in our office and we can go ahead and we'll watch you for the minutes after and so forth, and any side effects you can talk directly to me about those. That's part of our role and we look forward to it.”
Edje said she understands that history and race may play into the trust factor, too.
"I have a 97-year-old grandmother who understands Tuskegee and knows all of the old and a lot of the new things that have been going on around the uncomfortable truths around trials a lot of Black families deal with,” she said. “So understanding that is the first thing. I think bringing respect and patience to the conversation."
A study by the NAACP found that physicians in Black and Latino communities -- two populations that are one or two times more likely to get COVID-19 than white communities -- hold influence in more than two-thirds of their patients. The study also showed that people who are vaccine-hesitant were more likely to trust people who looked like them.
For Edje, the push to get people vaccinated is not just about her work; it’s personal, too.
"Because I've had deaths in my family, this is very real for me,” Edje said. "I have had family members die, and I wish I could be standing in line with them to get vaccinated because vaccines save lives."
In Ohio, providers have to enroll and prove they have the right cold storage for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Both have to be kept at extremely cold temperatures.
As of Wednesday, the state reported that 39% of Ohioans are fully vaccinated. COVID-19 cases continue to drop in Ohio, and Gov. Mike DeWine announced at the beginning of the month that most COVID-19 health orders will be lifted on June 2.