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A New York woman explains why she was hesitant to get vaccinated

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

As of now, at least 65% of the U.S. population has had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. Vaccine mandates and the rise of the delta variant has meant that more people are choosing to get inoculated. The number of vaccines administered in the United States has climbed now to over 400 million. That includes over 300,000 people who were just newly vaccinated. Kelly Womack was one of those people. She's an educator who lives with her service dog, Mika (ph), and received her first dose this past week. We've turned to her to understand why she waited and how she feels now about being vaccinated, and she joins us from Babylon, N.Y.

Hello.

KELLY WOMACK: Hi. Glad to be here on the show.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's great to have you. It's been a few days since you received your first dose. How are you feeling?

WOMACK: I'm feeling much better today. I have - it's a rare condition called MCAS that causes anaphylactic reactions to lots of things. So having had problems with vaccinations in the past - before my MCAS was quite so bad, it actually got worse with long COVID. It was difficult to get the shot. I - if I had a choice, I would not have waited (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sure. Well, let me ask you about this. So first of all, you had long COVID, so I'm assuming that you were infected at some point.

WOMACK: Yes, I was in the first wave. And I used to have someone living here that worked in downtown New York City, so it wouldn't be a surprise, you know, that I would be in the first wave with someone that was in such a congested area.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: May I ask you - because of your condition, that obviously meant that you were worried about how the vaccine was going to interact. What finally made you decide to take the jump?

WOMACK: Well, after a while of hearing that some - actually some long COVID sufferers were feeling better, it got to a point where I felt like, you know, maybe this will help, and I do want to be able to work with children, to, you know, go out in public. There is a bit of social pressure, which was kind of hard to deal with because if you can't get vaccinated in a timely manner - or some people can't get vaccinated at all. I actually know people. There's one called CVID, where people don't even make antibodies in reaction to vaccines, and they have to get, you know, infusions that help them to do so. I'm sorry. I lost my train of thought.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No, it's OK. No, no. What I'm hearing you say is that there was social pressure. Some of that actually has been in the way that is presented in the media - right? - where people who don't take the vaccine are sort of shown to be either, you know, deniers or that they're flooded with misinformation. Do you think people with disabilities get included in these talks as much as they should?

WOMACK: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. And something that's really painful - as well as being a disabled person, I'm an autistic person. The history of the whole anti-vax movement was really kind of based on, you know, the misinformation that really discriminates terribly against autistic people. Like, oh, I'd rather have my child possibly get a horrible disease than be autistic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because the misinformation around certain vaccines is that they cause autism.

WOMACK: Yes, absolutely. If there's one group that I would not want to be lumped into, that's one of the top groups would be the anti-vaxxer group.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How are you feeling now? The side effects have been, I'm assuming, limited, or you're feeling better now.

WOMACK: When I got the vaccine, within a few minutes, I got something called Livedo Reticularis, which is basically like a rash - a red rash on my arms, intense facial flushing like a tomato, very, very bad headache. Those things abated after a little while. The second day was GI issues. The next day, I felt a little sick, and then I started to feel better, so I definitely would do it again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's what I was going to ask you. Even with that, I mean, it's very brave of you to have done that, first of all, let me say, because it must have been very worrying throughout that period, not knowing what the result may be.

WOMACK: It was concerning. I think a big misunderstanding - a very big and very common misunderstanding with the disabled community is that we all have, you know, someone to turn to or a caretaker should something, you know, go wrong. My health is already in a very intense state. I was worried because my service dog doesn't have public access. And what happens to her if something happens to me?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. And so now that you've done it, you are going to get a second shot.

WOMACK: Yes, absolutely. Like, some long-haulers have talked about feeling better - just clarity of mind. So I do have that hope that maybe this shot will help.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I wish you all the best. I truly do. That's an incredible journey, and thank you so much for sharing it.

WOMACK: Thank you. Thank you so much for wanting to speak to someone from the disabled community. I feel like we've just been left out of the conversation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Kelly Womack joining us from Babylon, N.Y., talking about her recent vaccination. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.