Like nearly half of Citrus County residents who were eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Josh Wooten had chosen not to.
Wooten, the president and CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, didn’t think of himself as an anti-vaxxer, but more of an “early-on skeptic.”
But Friday he asked the Department of Health in Citrus County to vaccinate him. He told the Chronicle it was his time to get the shot and he wanted to do it in a public way to encourage others to get it too.
“Everybody arrives at their decision differently,” Wooten said.
He had been sick in January and thought he probably had already been exposed to the virus, Wooten told the Chronicle.
Then the lines for vaccines grew and he didn’t want to wait. Then infection rates fell and he thought why bother.
“I kept convincing myself it wasn’t necessary,” he said.
Wooten was not alone in his decision to wait.
According to a June Kaiser Family Foundation study, about a third of those who have not gotten vaccinated said they planned to “wait and see” if there were problems with the vaccines.
Of that third, four in 10 said they planned to wait more than six months before getting vaccinated. One third of the wait-and-see group told Kaiser they planned to wait more than a year.
Four in 10 not vaccinated reported people have pressured them to get the vaccine.
But the study also showed people can be incentivized to get vaccinated.
One in five of those who are employed and unvaccinated told Kaiser they would be more likely to get the vaccine if their employer gave them paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.
Among various financial incentives, 15% said they would be more likely to get vaccinated if they were offered $100 from their state government, 13% said free transportation from a ride sharing company, 11% said free tickets to a sporting event or concert, 10% said a $20 coupon for items like food or drinks.
Wooten said he needed to set an example and get vaccinated publicly in hopes of sending a message that it was the smart thing to do and vaccinations helped the economy as people stayed healthy and able to work.
What had helped change his mind?
The decline in the number of people getting sick stopped declining and started to grow. And then came the Delta variant, a more aggressive mutation of the virus and also more contagious.
And the unvaccinated were getting sick.
According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention, as much as 97% of hospitalized people with the virus had not been vaccinated.
“The alternative (to the vaccine) could be much worse,” Wooten told the Chronicle. “No matter what your politics are it does a heck of a lot more good than harm.
“It’s a nasty virus,” he said. “I’m going to do my part today.”
The DOH in Citrus County is still offering free vaccinations 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and 11 a.m. - 7 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday at the Duke Energy building at 8200 W. Venerable St., Crystal River. The DOH will also offer vaccinations 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Saturday, July 24.