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Vaccine hesitancy fueling rapid increase COVID-19 cases, health experts say

In Florida, only 47% of the population is now fully vaccinated, and 20% of the recent cases in the United States are in Florida.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — At James Weldon Park, between the food trucks and the lunch crowd, First Coast News found 18-year-old Rock Johnson.

Johnson fits the profile of the population that is not vaccinated, and when asked, Johnson said he is not. 

"I would not suggest it to my family," said Johnson.

Johnson has vaccine hesitancy and is among the population that most worry health care workers. 

"I am not ready to be vaccinated, and don't plan on it," said Johnson.

When asked why he wasn't sure, he said he is concerned about side effects, among other things.

The growing uncertainty about the vaccines' potential side effects coupled with the misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine continues to impact the public's interest in getting the vaccine.

"I have not been vaccinated," said Allen Tarkenton, "I need to see more longitudinal studies on the vaccine."

Even when some family members are vaccinated, convincing others in the family is sometimes a challenge.

"I've got people that are related to me that are hesitant about getting it, but just get it done," said LaShaun Daniels.

Daniels was vaccinated in April and wishes others would do the same.  

The CDC states the increase in the number of COVID-19 hospital admissions is among those who are not vaccinated. The CDC called it the "pandemic of the unvaccinated."

Justin Harvey with Florida Freedom Keepers questions the CDC's reporting. 

"There is no pandemic among our community," said Harvey.

Harvey's organization is opposed to vaccine mandates. He said their experts are concerned about the potential and long-term side effects.

He is also skeptical about the current surge in cases being blamed on vaccine hesitancy.

"It seems like a last-ditch effort to scare people into getting vaccinated," said Harvey.

However, front-line workers are seeing a different picture. In Florida, only 47% of the population is now fully vaccinated, and 20% of the recent cases are in Florida with Jacksonville being the center of attention.

"Jacksonville has become the case study for this nation for what happens when less than 50% are vaccinated," Dr. Chirag Patel.

Dr. Patel is an Internist at UF Health Hospital and treats some of those hospitalized with the COVID-19 virus.

"We've got people whose bodies can't protect itself from this highly contagious variant," he said.

Dr. Patel said the trials and studies have shown that the COVID-19 vaccine saves lives. 

He knows that getting the shot is a choice but said misinformation is forcing too many to make the wrong choice. He believes, in the end, all it does is promotes vaccine hesitancy.

Dr. Patel said the Delta Variant is too dangerous to ignore and will continue to fuel the surge until more people are vaccinated.