Dr. John Botti talks with a black woman before she gets the COVID-19 vaccination.
Dr. John Botti sits with Jasmine Hines, 44, ahead of her COVID-19 vaccination.

On an overcast day at Novant Health Medical Group - Huntersville, Dr. John Botti can be heard asking patients, “Are you OK with the Pfizer vaccine?”

The 73-year-old physician came out of retirement in April to help Novant Health vaccinate its communities. COVID-19 vaccinations in North Carolina have been falling steadily since then but are slowly beginning to climb.

“Most people I’m seeing now are worried about the delta variant, which is more contagious,” Botti said.

John Hippensteel smiles for a photo after getting his first COVID vaccine dose.
John Hippensteel, 44, moments after receiving his first COVID-19 vaccine dose. In the top photo, he temporarily removed his mask for the shot.

After reading how quickly the delta variant is spreading, 44-year-old John Hippensteel made the decision to get vaccinated.

“I’ve been tracking what the outcomes have been for people who are not vaccinated – like ending up in the hospital – and that weighed on my decision,” he said. “I decided there's a greater risk not to get the COVID vaccine than there is to get it.”

Hippensteel said he felt compelled to do his part as an owner of a local dance studio (along with his wife), where children train. “I think that was part of what we realized, too. Not only do we need to be protected, but we’re helping to protect the community,” he said.

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Mounting pressure from friends and family and more confidence in the vaccines’ safety are other reasons people like Jasmine Hines are overcoming their initial hesitancy. Hines, who teaches yoga and works at a community college, opted to get the vaccine after her mother and daughter took the plunge.

“I have knowledge of the history of this country and for Black people, in particular, so I had some trepidation about getting the shot. Then I started to see people who I love, honor and respect get the vaccine and we talked about why,” said Hines, 44. “I finally decided not to allow legitimate fears to hold me back from getting vaccinated.”

The recent uptick in vaccinations is also being felt at the Hanes vaccine clinic in Winston-Salem – one of four NHMG mass vaccination sites. After a couple of slow months, more than 800 people a week are coming through their doors, said Renae Caldwell, director of operations and experience at NHMG.

Jasmine Hines receives the COVID-19 vaccine at Novant Health Medical Group - Huntersville.
Jasmine Hines receives the COVID-19 vaccine at Novant Health Medical Group - Huntersville.

“I think a lot of people were nervous at first, but now they know people who have safely received the vaccine and there’s a lot of encouragement in that,” Caldwell said.

The start of a new school year is another contributing factor. “We’re definitely seeing more families bringing in their children right now. Kids want to go back to school, participate in sports and hang out with friends. Getting vaccinated helps them do that more safely,” she said.

Kids 12 and up can receive the Pfizer COVID vaccine, and studies are underway to evaluate its safety in even younger children.

Despite more than 4 billion doses of the vaccine having been administered, COVID has killed upward of 600,000 people in the U.S. and more than 4 million worldwide. A tragedy, said experts, who describe it as a preventable disease.

Promyse Young, 41, smiles for a photo after his first COVID-19 vaccine dose.
Promyse Young, 41, smiles for a photo after his first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Tragedy is what prompted 41-year-old Promyse Young to overcome his fears. Despite never being one the get the annual flu shot, the radio station traffic manager recently received his first COVID vaccine dose in north Charlotte.

“My stepmom and my best friend’s mom both passed away from COVID. And just yesterday, I got an email that another one of my friend’s mom died,” Young said. “After a while, you can't be hardheaded anymore. You got to trust the science and do it.”

For another group of people, it’s access – not hesitancy – that’s prevented them from getting vaccinated sooner.

“We’ve had some people who were foreign nationals who have recently moved to the United States,” Botti said. “They are very happy to have gotten the vaccine because they could not get it in their own country.”

Dr. David Priest smiles in a white lab coat.
Dr. David Priest

It’s a sentiment that Dr. David Priest, Novant Health chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer, shares.

“COVID-19 is now a preventable disease, but we’re letting it smolder. It’s tragic when you have parts of the world begging for the vaccine and here in the U.S., we have a surplus and not everyone is willing to get it,” Priest said.

In addition to its mass vaccination sites, which take walk-ins and appointments, Novant Health is also offering COVID vaccines at many primary adult and pediatric care clinics. Learn more here.

TOP PHOTO: John Hippensteel smiles with his COVID-19 vaccination card at Novant Health Medical Group - Huntersville.

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