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Demand For Vaccines Are Dropping — So Local Doctors Are Working To Convince Patients

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

COVID-19 vaccine mega sites around the country have been closing with the continued drop in demand for the shot. Now, much of the hard work of getting people vaccinated will fall on primary care providers. From Dallas, KERA's Bret Jaspers reports.

BRET JASPERS, BYLINE: Rachel Stewart is a nurse practitioner. Her office north of Fort Worth delivers primary care, including all kinds of vaccines.

RACHEL STEWART: So vaccine fridge is here. It's nothing amazing. It just has to be monitored with the degrees of how cold or how hot it is. And we have to check that twice a day.

JASPERS: Stewart's getting new patients all the time. And with each one, she asks about their vaccine status.

STEWART: Have you had any COVID vaccines? Are you planning to get a COVID vaccine? If you haven't, why are you not getting them?

JASPERS: In the United States, just over half the population 12 and over is fully vaccinated. And it's even lower in Texas. The remaining folks are more likely to be persuaded after a one-on-one conversation with a doctor who knows them. Stewart, for example, talks about her own decision to get the shot.

STEWART: Yes, my arm was sore. And yes, I did have some fever and some headache for a few hours. But I feel comfortable in the fact that I'm not going to end up in the hospital on a ventilator.

SALMA SAIGER: The trust is the only thing that they will get the vaccine.

JASPERS: Dr. Salma Saiger is a primary care doctor near Dallas. She's built up trust with her patients over the 11 years she's practiced there.

SAIGER: If OK, my primary care doctor has taken care of me. She's always given me good advice. She has never misled me. She's telling me something. OK, I'll trust her. I'll keep my feelings aside, and I'll get it.

JASPERS: Saiger says among the five providers in her office, they vaccinate fewer than 10 people a day for COVID-19, a far cry from a few months ago. The big rush is long over, and the remaining patients generally fall into two groups - people fine with getting the vaccine but who just haven't gotten around to it and those who need some persuasion.

SAIGER: Some people are still very difficult to - they still want to wait.

JASPERS: Patients can be skeptical for all kinds of reasons. Social media posts spread misinformation, of course, but also, the vaccines came out really quickly. It's easy to forget that even though the technique used for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been in development for years, widespread talk of them came fast on the heels of the virus.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That's going to be 10.26. Just select a tip right here and then sign when you're ready.

YAHIRO PARDO: OK.

JASPERS: I met Yahiro Pardo (ph) at a sandwich shop in Mesquite, Texas. She is one of Dr. Saiger's patients and works as a medical assistant in a pediatric clinic. On a visit to Saiger unrelated to the vaccine, they talked about it.

PARDO: To me, I was kind of skeptical at first because I was like, OK, so how did they do a COVID vaccine so quick? That was my biggest question.

JASPERS: Pardo then mulled it over with her husband, who thought getting vaccinated was a good idea. She had a second visit with Dr. Saiger, and they talked about the vaccine again. In the end, Saiger's own story about getting her family vaccinated helped convince Pardo to get the shot.

PARDO: She told me that since we're all in the medical field, that it's very important for us to set that example to our family. So that is one of the things that really clicked in my head and made me think about it really hard.

JASPERS: The press conferences and news reports featuring government officials or experts didn't sway her. Pardo said if it weren't for her primary care doctor, she wouldn't have gotten the vaccine. Salma Saiger.

SAIGER: We are the backbone of the medicine, right? Patients come to us first. They listen to our advice first. So I think that will be a very major role for all primary care doctors to do.

JASPERS: And Saiger says each patient vaccinated is potentially a life saved. For NPR News, I'm Bret Jaspers in Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.