SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – While public health officials have focused on distribution and supply issues as the main culprits in the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, they also acknowledge it’s been a challenge convincing some eligible healthcare workers to get their shots.

“There is a lot of vaccine hesitancy among people – even among healthcare providers,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib with the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

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Santa Clara County prioritized getting healthcare workers the first doses of the vaccine, an estimated workforce of 140,000.

According to an update provided to the county Board of Supervisors, roughly 52,000 healthcare workers have been vaccinated, just 37%. That’s far below the expectations when the vaccine first arrived nearly a month ago.

“I would say from my understanding that it’s not necessarily refusal. From my understanding, it’s possibly deferral,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UCSF.

Chin-Hong said his health system gave every employee a choice to get vaccinated now or to defer and wait until a later date. He says a significant portion of eligible healthcare workers chose to defer.

“Another belief that’s pervasive is the feeling that I’ve been working in this super high-risk environment for a long time and I’ve been protecting myself. So maybe, what I’m doing is working,” explained the UCSF expert.

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Chin-Hong said the medical community’s excitement and anxiety about the vaccine –specifically, the speed at which it was developed and its overall safety – mirror the concerns of the public at large.

“That to me is a big risk to take the vaccine,” Martin Pina said outside a county testing site.

Others, however, were eager to get a chance to protect themselves and slow the spread of the virus.

“I’m afraid of shots. But I recognize the value of this. We all need to do this,” said Marilyn Spero, an in-home healthcare worker.

Spero received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine at the county’s Berger Auditorium vaccination site in San Jose.

Public health officials estimate 70 to 85% of the population need to get vaccinate for the community to achieve herd immunity. They say that may be an uphill battle if they’re having trouble convincing even some people in the healthcare field.

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“This is a safe vaccine and should be utilized. So, I think once we get over that hump and people accept the vaccine more readily, you’ll see vaccination numbers rise,” Fenstersheib said.