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Vaccine hesitancy is the next big issue in Washington's fight against COVID-19

Approximately 21% of Washingtonians don't want the COVID-19 vaccine or are unsure if they want it, according to the IHME.

SEATTLE — As COVID-19 vaccine supplies are expected to ramp up in the state, Washington will shift focus to a new problem: people refusing to get vaccinated.

“I am terribly concerned about that, and everyone in public health is concerned about that as well,” said state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah.

But Washington state is doing better than most.

“We are in a much better position. More people in Washington are willing to take the vaccine than everywhere else, in my opinion,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, with the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

According to a study published by the IHME in January, 52% of people in the U.S. said they would definitely get the COVID-19 vaccine, while 23% will not, and 25% were unsure.

In Washington, 79% of people will, or likely will, get the vaccine, while 21% are unsure or won’t get it.

The state with the most vaccine hesitancy is Arkansas, with 32% of the population not wanting the vaccine.

The state with the least hesitancy is Massachusetts, where only 17% of the population said they would not get the vaccine.

Mokdad said it’s been proven through clinical trials that the vaccines are safe, but disinformation and mistrust are to blame for hesitancy.

“The only way to deal with it is to put the science forward and to show - not shame anybody - [by] patiently telling them why it’s very important to take the vaccine,” said Mokdad.

But he’s optimistic that as vaccine eligibility opens up, and people see more loved ones getting vaccinated, hesitancy will drop.