Oklahoma doctors (top row, from left) Noor Jihan Abdul-Haqq, Sandra Gilliland, Douglas Drevets; (middle) Steffen Carey, Eli Reshef; (bottom) Summer Lepley, Bruce Dennis, Anas Siddiqui (Photos provided)

As Oklahoma’s medical community is increasingly sounding alarms about the latest COVID-19 wave hitting the state, doctors, nurses and others are pleading with Oklahomans to get vaccinated. 

That’s because although some breakthrough infections have been recorded, the vast majority of those now hospitalized are unvaccinated

To better understand why some Oklahomans are not getting vaccinated, Oklahoma Watch talked to 10 medical professionals around the state to get a sense of what they are hearing and what they are telling the unvaccinated. Here are excerpts of what they had to say:

Dr. Noor Jihan Abdul-Haqq

Dr. Noor Abdul-Haqq

Location: Del City

Speciality: Pediatrician at Peace of Mind Pediatrics

What They Are Hearing: “My pediatric patients, like teenagers, are more concerned about long-term effects of it. Some people say it’s not FDA approved and they don’t want to be experimented on, it was rushed — you know, pretty typical things. I even have some people who really do believe that there are microchips in it, that it’s a way to alter the population and that it’s intentional to make us all sick — that’s why the government’s offering it for free. There are others who feel like it causes infertility and they won’t be able to have children. (Teenagers) are getting (misinformation) from their parents. (Misinformation is) rampant on social media. That’s what I think we’re combating this entire time, dispelling myths.”

What They Tell Unvaccinated Patients: “The biggest thing that I kind of push is not the science behind it, because you know, I didn’t invent it. So what I actually kind of just focus on is in terms of what we have seen of people who have gotten a vaccine and just the history of vaccines.”

 — Rebecca Najera

RELATED

Frances Barber

Location: Altus 

Speciality: Nurse Practitioner 

What They Are Hearing: “A lot of people are uncomfortable with the science behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, I would say that’s the number one misconception. And then there’s concern about the lack of protection or complete protection. but you compare it to the flu vaccine. You may get COVID, but it’s going to be a milder version.” 

What They Tell Unvaccinated Patients: “I give them our county numbers, which we get from the state health department. We talk about what the (National Institutes of Health) and the CDC is saying, and then I always refer them to their pharmacist if they have more questions.” 

— Keaton Ross

Dr. Steffen Carey

Dr. Steffen Carey

Location: Tulsa

Speciality: Family medicine 

What They Are Hearing: “A very common concern is that (the vaccine) just got approved and it was rushed so I’m not taking it because it was developed too fast. … People get suspicious and say, ‘oh it changes my DNA’ or some of those more extreme things. 

What They Tell Unvaccinated Patients: “I try to give them a baseline understanding that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this technology and it’s actually been around for a while … (The vaccine) is not a live thing. And all your body does to it is it recognizes it so it can make proper immune cells to fight the virus when you see it.” 

— Jennifer Palmer

Dr. Anas Siddiqui

Dr. Anas Siddiqui

Location: El Reno 

Speciality: Primary care physician 

What They Are Hearing: “They’re anxious about how fast the vaccine came and they assume it has not been tested properly. The other thing is, with all the vaccine mandates they keep hearing about, that makes them think ‘why is everyone pushing for it so hard.’” 

What They Tell Unvaccinated Patients: “Sometimes I pull (data from certain European countries where vaccination rates are higher and cases and hospitalizations have started to plateau) out in front of them to show how much difference the vaccine is making.” 

— Keaton Ross

Dr. Krish Ashok

Location: Oklahoma City

Speciality: Family medicine

What They Are Hearing: I’ve had patients who told me that the clinical trials for the vaccine haven’t been going on long enough. They’d tell me they heard clinical trials should go on for a few years. I’ve had others who say we are putting stuff in the vaccine so the government or whoever can track you.

What They Tell Unvaccinated Patients: For those wanting years of clinical trials, I tell them if they want to wait for a few years, more people will just continue to die. And I don’t hesitate to tell them they might die too. 

— Trevor Brown

Dr. Douglas Drevets

Dr. Douglas Drevets

Location: Oklahoma City

Speciality: Chief of infectious diseases at OU Health

What They Are Hearing: The most common answer I get is that people just don’t see the urgency for it. They just don’t perceive it as a need. It’s not so much that they have a bias against the vaccine or think they are getting implants with a microchip, it’s just not a big deal for them or it hasn’t been made personal to them. 

What They Tell Unvaccinated Patients: I try to communicate to foks what we’re seeing on the inside of our hospitals. Hospital beds, ICU beds are becoming short because we don’t have the staff. And for several weeks we’ve been taking patients from out of state, from Texas and Arkansas, because they ran out beds. It’s a real problem on the in-patient side, and until they perceive it as a threat to themselves, they’re really not going to see the urgency.”

— Trevor Brown

Dr. Eli Reshef

Dr. Eli Reshef

Location: Oklahoma City

Speciality: Senior physician at the INTEGRIS Bennett Fertility Institute

What They Are Hearing: As a fertility specialist, a question I get asked a lot is if they should get the vaccine during the first trimester or wait … or if the vaccine can interfere with somebody’s reproductive potential. In other words, they are concerned that it can cause infertility or interfere with reproduction. 

What They Tell Unvaccinated Patients: I say get it and get it now. It doesn’t matter what stage of pregnancy or if it’s before pregnancy. First of all, the CDC has approved it for pregnant women. Number two, we don’t have any evidence that the vaccine will cause any fertility issues, birth defects or any adverse effects. Number three, if you get COVID-19 in the third trimester of your pregnancy, you can become deathly ill, you can die or your child could be born premature or die.”

— Trevor Brown

Dr. Sandra Gilliland

Dr. Sandra Gilliland

Location: Oklahoma City

Speciality: Pediatrician and director of clinical quality with Variety Care

What They Are Hearing: Ultimately, I think for most of them it comes down to that their perception of the risks from COVID is, I would say, falsely low. People don’t think they have any risk factors. But I have teenage patients with asthma, diabetes, pre-diabetic obesity or hypertension who will sit there and tell me that they don’t think they are at risk. I’ve also had people say they have a false perception or concerns about the vaccine. I’ve even had a couple people with some of the more crazy sort of stuff saying things like, ‘my arm will turn into a magnet.” 

What They Tell Unvaccinated Patients: One of the recent times I changed a person’s mind was actually a 13-year-old patient last week. His grandma came in with him and said she didn’t think he was at risk because she heard children don’t really get COVID. So I said, first of all, he’s a teenager, not a child. Then I said, we know teenagers are at risk, especially if they have obesity, prediabetes or a family history of diabetes. I didn’t know honestly if she was listening or would care. But she turned around and said, ‘OK let’s do it.’”

— Trevor Brown

Dr. Summer Lepley

Dr. Summer Lepley

Location: Oklahoma City

Speciality: Outpatient primary care physician with SSM

What They Are Hearing: Probably the top reason that I hear is that the vaccine hasn’t been around long enough and they want some data to come out to make sure it’s safe and that there are no long-term side effects. 

What They Tell Unvaccinated Patients: My initial approach was to use data to try to convince them, but I’ve found that people are kind of overwhelmed with data right now. And there has been so much data that they’ve probably already seen it before or feel like it’s been manipulated. So I feel like personal anecdotes and stories resonate more with patients.  

— Trevor Brown

Dr. Bruce Dennis

Dr. Bruce Dennis

Location: Ada

Speciality: Internal medicine 

What They Are Hearing: I think attitudes are shifting a bit. What I heard months ago was more skepticism about the virus in general or think the danger has passed. But now I’m hearing that people actually have doubts about the vaccine itself, that it came to market too quickly or (except for the Pfizer vaccine), it hasn’t been approved by the FDA yet. They are worried about the side effects.

What They Tell Unvaccinated Patients: We usually try to personalize it. Most (patients) haven’t had any experiences with someone who had a bad side effect from the vaccine, but most of them by now have known someone who has been affected by COVID. So I just have a talk about how real those side effects are and I’ll ask if they know anyone who has experienced the things they are worried about. Generally, they haven’t and it’s just a rumor they’ve heard. A lot of people are on the fence. So we talk about it, I ask what their concerns are, we talk it through and sometimes they say, ‘sure, we’ll go get one now.’” 

— Trevor Brown

Creative Commons License


Support our publication

Every day we strive to produce journalism that matters — stories that strengthen accountability and transparency, provide value and resonate with readers like you.

This work is essential to a better-informed community and a healthy democracy. But it isn’t possible without your support.