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'We hope more people change their minds' | Some first responders refuse to get COVID-19 vaccine

Agencies in the Charlotte region report participation rates from 20% to 72%.

GASTONIA, N.C. — Despite healthcare leaders pushing for people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, some firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs in agencies from Charlotte to Gaston County, are declining to get vaccinated.

Gastonia Fire Department said around 20% of their eligible firefighters got vaccinated.

The department's public information officer, Jim Landis, said each firefighter has different reasons for his or her apprehension, but the department is still encouraging them to get inoculated.

"We're hoping more people change their minds," Landis said. "Right now, there's nothing you can [do] to make them go get it. It's an optional thing, but we're hoping more people are going to get it."

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The Charlotte Fire Department said they don't keep track of how many of their people got vaccinated, but they also have heard from hesitant firefighters.

At Mecklenburg County's MEDIC, 72% of eligible paramedics and EMTs got the vaccine.

Dr. Jonathan Studnek, MEDIC's deputy director, said before vaccines were even distributed, they began having face-to-face conversations with those who questioned the vaccine's efficacy.

"Engage those employees with a conversation about why they may be hesitant or what concerns they may have," Dr. Studnek said. "It was really a full force communication effort."

Help WCNC Charlotte make a difference in Gastonia by donating to Bountiful Blessings.

Public health leaders and vaccine experts agree the COVID-19 vaccine is safe.

North Carolina will soon enter Group 3 of its vaccine distribution, which will include other frontline essential workers like police officers and sheriff's deputies.

However, some law enforcement agencies are already hearing from hesitant employees.

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In an anonymous survey, Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger said only 30% of his deputies expressed interest in getting the shot.

Other law enforcement agencies told WCNC Charlotte they don't have specific vaccination numbers.

As someone who battled the virus himself, Landis expects as time goes on, more first responders will get the vaccine.

"I think as more and more people get COVID and realize what it's like, you're going to see more of them getting on-board," Landis said.

Have a relative or friend in another state and want to know when they can get vaccinated? Visit NBC News' Plan Your Vaccine site to find out about each state's vaccine rollout plan.

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