Dave Jeanguenat from Colorado Springs wouldn't get the COVID vaccine.
"It's a personal choice," he said.
The news about the vaccines has been confusing depending on how the political winds blow.
He questions drug companies' rush to bring vaccines to market, and has concerns about their safety and long-term effects.
But Jeanguenat said he had encountered many setbacks.
For example, a golfer in the car he was driving in last week asked if he would get a shot. Jeanguenat said he wasn't sure.
"People who don't get it are just plain stupid," the guy replied.
"I shouldn't have to be ashamed of getting it," said Jeanguenat. "If it has been so effective why do the people who already have the vaccine still fear someone who doesn't choose to have it?"
Sue Kys from Colorado Springs also had her intelligence challenged.
She said she was labeled un-American, stupid, and selfish for choosing not to be vaccinated.
"People shame me and tell me I'm not doing my part," said Kys. "If you're scared, you don't have to be around me."
According to a poll by Pew Research, about one in three Americans said in February that they probably or definitely won't be vaccinated. That's an improvement on last September when nearly half of Americans said they didn't think they would get the vaccine.
But the public criticism for those who could not worsen in the coming months.
Vaccination pass programs where people present proof of vaccination in order to travel, attend major events, and work in some professions are emerging.
Such a requirement is a shame in itself, said Bill Stephens, a Colorado Springs resident.
"I think we are still in a free country," he said. "Can't I take responsibility for myself? Those who think differently can stay home if they are concerned about it. I am not responsible for them."
"Individual decision for society"
Tense, even angry, interactions between vaccinated and unvaccinated are not surprising, especially with a new infectious disease, said Jennifer Reich, professor of sociology at the University of Colorado in Denver who studies vaccine reluctance.
Many people consider vaccines "a major victory in a long and devastating pandemic," she said. It may therefore seem illogical that some people would not want to be vaccinated.
People don't get vaccinated for a myriad of reasons, Reich said, including suspicion, the perception that the risks outweigh the benefits, the fear of side effects, personal rights, and individual values.
Contradicting viewpoints could lead to the unvaccinated feeling being stigmatized and judged, Reich said.
"When individuals reject vaccines but want full participation in common spaces, it is easy for those working toward community solutions to express their frustration at how they want to benefit from public investment without fulfilling the obligations of a community," said a community Rich in one email.
"We see this in debates about whether unvaccinated children should be able to attend schools or when health care workers are expected to get a flu vaccine to protect those in their care."
That sums up what Colorado Springs-resident Mark MacFarlane, who was vaccinated, believes.
"I think it's an individual choice for society," he said. "I would compare it to polio or measles, where you put other people at risk if you are selfish."
As of Thursday, 26% of American adults were fully vaccinated and 43% had at least one COVID shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 data tracker.
According to an estimate by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, around 70% of the population must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, which means enough people have developed the disease or have been vaccinated to reduce its spread.
The weighing of individual preferences and common goals to ensure public safety could lead to further restrictions on the unvaccinated, speculates Reich, such as "constant wearing of masks, regular COVID tests or other strategies to contain infections and at the same time ways to mutual respect and support ".
Colorado law doesn't prevent private employers from requiring workers to be vaccinated, said Susan Strebel Sperber, an employment law specialist and partner in Louis Roca's Denver office.
Some Colorado companies are already doing this, according to Sparrowhawk, in the healthcare, entertainment, travel, catering, and other food service industries.
Such companies must make accommodations or exemptions for employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act and for religious beliefs.
According to a survey conducted by the Employers Council in February, only 4% of employers in Colorado said they require vaccinations for employees. The nationwide association helps companies with labor law and personnel issues.
"It's a pretty low percentage, and it's in line with what we hear from employers," said George Russo, who heads the southern Colorado office that works with about 400 companies in the area.
Requiring vaccines such as the flu shot for medical workers and long-term care is not uncommon, but it is more uncomfortable for a downtown shopkeeper.
Some employers in need of the COVID vaccine have encountered opposition from workers, decreased morale and a negative image, Russo said.
The Employers Council survey found that "employers find it more convenient to promote it than to hire it," he said.
Future legal or legislative decisions can prevent companies from enacting vaccination requirements. Texas and Florida governors, for example, have issued executive orders to stop vaccine mandates from companies that receive government funding.
Sperber's company recommends that companies do not need vaccines at this time.
"It's so new that the law is really in flux and the vaccine isn't readily available to those who want it," she said. "It may be premature to make a global decision," she said.
Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the COVID vaccines for use in the event of an emergency during the pandemic, federal employees cannot be asked to obtain them.
In Fort Carson, for example, the vaccine is offered voluntarily, said spokeswoman Brandy Gill.
"Prioritized military personnel are urged to take the vaccine to protect their health, families and communities, and to reduce the public health risks associated with the pandemic," she said in an email.
Can employers ask employees if they have been vaccinated?
While privacy laws prohibit employers from asking employees about their health, the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not define vaccination as a disease.
Efforts to reach groups lag behind
Certain populations have lagged behind in immunization.
Of the full vaccines given in the U.S. from mid-December through last Thursday, 68.5% were white recipients, 8.7% were Hispanic / Latin American, 7.9% were black, and 9.2% were multiracial, according to CDC data. People are considered fully vaccinated when they have received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna syringes, or one of the Johnson and Johnson brands.
Latin American and Hispanic communities "have a long way to go," said Julissa Soto, director of statewide programs for Servicios de la Raza, which offer Spanish-speaking immunization centers in Colorado and an office in Colorado Springs.
"There is a lot of fear of the vaccine, there is a lot of misinformation in close circles of friends, families, neighbors and churches," she said.
Myths, misinformation, lack of computer access or email address, and feelings of intimidation make it difficult to sign up Latinos for the vaccine, Soto said.
"While our promoters are well informed about the vaccine's benefits and try to give them scientific information from official sources such as the CDC, it is difficult to change the minds of others, especially the elderly," she said.
For black communities, the pandemic exposed racism in medical care in America, said Rev. Leslie Raphael White, pastor of Payne Chapel A.M.E.C. in Colorado Springs.
"Poor people of all races received poor medical care," he said.
To "serve, heal, and deliver" the community, White asked El Paso County Public Health if his church could become a vaccination center.
Two newer clinics received "overwhelming" responses, the pastor said, dispensing more than 800 doses each.
"We have people from all over the world, of every race, ethnicity, sexuality," White said.
The church at Marion Drive 3625 will host another clinic on April 24th and expects more than 1,500 admissions.
Improving access to vaccines has been a priority in El Paso County, according to public health officials who have set up clinics in low-income and rural areas, hosted mass vaccination events, and deployed mobile clinics in the neighborhood.
"People want good medical care," White said. "If I could open a vaccination clinic in our church six days a week, we would have our doors open."
Vaccine is safe, say experts
Approximately 700 people have died after receiving the vaccine between December, when the first vaccines were approved, and last week, according to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System.
The cause of death in incident reports is likely not the vaccine, but people who died after receiving the vaccine from the same day to a month or more afterwards.
Deaths are rare, however, as more than 112 million Americans have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the CDC.
"With so many millions of doses given, it's pretty safe," said Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention and control at UCHealth and one of Colorado's top infectious disease specialists.
In fact, ongoing studies have shown it is safe for pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding, she said, although she recommends women speak to their GP about concerns.
The benefits of protection from the vaccine far outweigh the risks, Barron said.
Barron said the only people who shouldn't be vaccinated are those with severe allergies to any of the vaccine compounds – which they think is unusual.
The reluctance to get vaccinated is often due to the type of information that is being shared, which has changed as the medical community learned more about the virus, Barron said.
"Yes, it was done quickly, but we followed the rules that other vaccines like the flu shot or vaccines for children are subject to," she said.
The political division also continues to play a role.
A recent Marist poll, conducted in partnership with NPR and PBS NewsHour, found that 49% of Republican men said they would not take the vaccine if it was available to them.
"I think we live in America, a free country, and if you want to get it, you get it, and if you don't, you don't," said Mischelle Chambon of Colorado Springs, who was vaccinated. "The health of other people is not my responsibility."
There will always be a contingent of the population not getting the COVID vaccine, Barron said.
"Some people will continue to have strong opinions about the vaccine one way or another," she said.
Barron recommends speaking to people who got the shot and asking them how it went.
"Sometimes it helps to hear personal stories from people you know."