Georgia doctor tries to win over vaccine-wary patients, one conversation at a time

The long lines for COVID-19 shots are now long gone, and Newnan Family Medicine's Dr. Cecil Bennett is spending his days talking one-on-one with his vaccine-wary patients, urging them to roll up their sleeves.

"Every single patient, the first thing we ask them when they come to the office is, ‘Are you vaccinated?’" Dr. Bennett says.

For John and Shari Baker of Newnan, who have been married nearly 50 years, the answer is a firm no.

RELATED: Georgia doctor says he recommends COVID-19 shots for all, but not boosters

"I told him, I'm not anti-vaccine," John Baker says. "I've had the polio (vaccine), back when I was a kid. I get tetanus every five years or so."

When their grandchild was born a few years back, he says, they both got vaccinated against whooping cough, so they could safely see the baby.

But, the Bakers, who are both in their early 70's, do not want the COVID-19 vaccine.

MORE: COVID-19 has killed as many Americans as 1918 Spanish flu

"We need more information," John Baker says. "Why are there so many vaccines? Why are some working and some not? Why are people who get the shot still getting sick and spreading the virus? That right there proves it doesn't work."  

Another patient, 44-year-old Nathan Bridges, who is medically retired from US Customs and Border Patrol, was also wary about getting vaccinated, for a couple of reasons.

MORE: CDC: Unvaccinated nearly 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 

"Well, the fact that it's rushed," Bridges says. "What are the long-term effects, side effects?"

Bennett says it takes time to convince his more hesitant patients. 

"We've had conversations," he says. "For some patients, it was just one conversation. For other patients, it was 10 conversations." 

Bennett says about 40% of his patients originally said no to the vaccine, but most have come around.

"The the reason they're coming around is this delta variant is very serious," he says. "I mean, this is not your 2020 COVID virus this year with delta, and they're seeing loved ones who are going to the hospital and loved ones who are dying."

Nathan Bridges rebuffed Dr. Bennett's offer to vaccinate him several times, but recently changed his mind after his elderly father got the virus. 

He was vaccinated, Bridges says, and was sick for just three or four days without any complications.

Still, there are some patients, Dr. Bennett says, he cannot win over, no matter how many conversations they have.

"This week, I lost two patients to COVID," Bennett says. "One was 73-years-old and the other one 39-years-old. And, both of those patients I had conversations with over, and over, and over again about being vaccinated, and they did not get vaccinated, and they're no longer with us."

Bennett and the Bakers still talk about the vaccine each time they visit his office.

He is nudging them to get protected, and they are pushing back.

"Why does the administration say get the vaccine so that your safe, but then put your mask on because you're going to get it again because you're not careful?" John Baker asks. "They're lying."

Dr. Bennett says he will keep trying to convince the couple.

'You're going to be introduced to COVID this year, either by a vaccination or by infection," he says. "You choose which one, which path you want to go down."

He believes politics is at the root of why most of his unvaccinated patients are reluctant to roll up their sleeves for this vaccine.

"All these other things about, 'Well, it's not approved, or it's too fast,'" Bennett says. "I find those are just excuses, that people are just politically dug in, and I'm there with my shovel, trying to get them out of that little tunnel they're in."

Asked if there is anything that will change his mind about getting vaccinated, John Baker quickly responds.

"Yes," Baker says. "Prove to me it is what they say it is."

Dr. Bennett says he will keep trying.

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