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CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - Wilbur, a 39-year-old cook at a restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina, resisted getting vaccinated against the coronavirus for months because of suspicions about potentially adverse side effects.
"I was scared at first because people are saying all kinds of things about the vaccine, and you react to that," Wilbur, who declined to give his last name, told VOA this week at a pop-up vaccination center in Charlotte.
But when the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus sparked high case numbers in the area, Wilbur ultimately decided to face his fears and get the shot.
"My initial reaction was fear, but then after getting my first shot and not feeling so sick, I came today for my second one," said Wilbur, a father of two.
"I'll soon get my daughters vaccinated as well when we can make the time, since they're in school," he added. "One is 16, and the other is 18."
Wilbur is among a growing number of Americans overcoming their vaccine hesitancy and turning out at vaccination centers, clinics and pharmacies to get shots. After a pronounced lull in the Biden administration's vaccination campaign this summer, many people now are seeking vaccinations amid reports of a substantial increase in severe coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
According to media reports, the increase in vaccinations has been especially noticeable in many southern states, including North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, where the proportion of people who have received at least one vaccine dose has been far below the national average of roughly 60 percent.
In North Carolina, for example, weekly first doses of vaccines more than doubled between July 7 and August 16, from 39,288 to 87,080, according to the state health department.
Shani Reel, 23, a Charlotte resident who also just got her second dose of vaccine this week, told VOA that, "definitely the rise of the delta variant was what finally urged me to get my shot."
The delta variant has badly hit the Charlotte area, the county seat of Mecklenburg County. According to the county's website, the 14-day average of COVID cases roughly doubled over the past month, from 288 confirmed cases as of July 28 to 564 as of August 25.
Dr. Tracei Ball, who was working at the pop-up COVID vaccine and testing site off a busy road in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood of Charlotte, told VOA that "of course" it was critical that more people come out to get the vaccine.
"I mean, we're at a 15 percent positivity rate again, which is where we were at in January," said Ball, referring to the city's extremely high percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus.
Ball works as a staff doctor for Old North State Medical Society (ONSMS), a nonprofit organization founded by African Americans in North Carolina with the aim to provide medical services to communities that traditionally have less access.
Reel is an example of the vaccination converts Ball and other health care officials are trying to recruit. Reel works from home as a consulting analyst, and while members of her family whom she lives with had been vaccinated, she was originally unsure.
"Everything about the long-term effects, not so much the short term," Reel said when asked what kept her hesitant at first.
Reel said that while she was nervous about the initial days after getting vaccinated, she now felt relieved.
"I feel a lot better going out in public now that I'm vaccinated. I definitely feel more protected, although I still wear a mask when I go out," Reel told VOA. "But it does make me feel better in general, and a good hurdle to be over."
Drive-up vaccination site
People turned out in huge numbers to get the jab at another mass vaccination site in Charlotte off Freedom Drive, held primarily as a drive-up event with short lines for in-person servicing and organized by StarMed, a local chain of urgent care clinics.
James Simmons was one of the local residents who came with his girlfriend and mother.
Simmons, 32, works as a mover and, while he encouraged his girlfriend and mother to finally come out and get vaccinated, he himself was reluctant.
"I heard you get sick for a couple days after [getting the shot] and I can't be having that because I got kids and a family to provide for. I can't just take the time off suddenly if anything happens," Simmons explained.
"But I'll probably get it eventually," Simmons added. "Numbers are high now and I can't afford to get sick with the virus either."
This site was offering $100 gift cards for people who chose to get vaccinated, which may be persuasive for many in the area who come from lower-income backgrounds.
VOA spoke with event worker Shay, 39, who declined to give her last name. While she was happy people showed up in large numbers to get vaccinated, she said people shouldn't commit to the vaccine just for a monetary incentive.
"People still should come here regardless of what they're getting, just to be safe, for our loved ones - the sake of their loved ones, mom, kids, the whole community, it just isn't worth catching it and giving it to others," Shay told VOA.
"But it's good - I'm actually happy," Shay said of the large turnout the event brought.
Both StarMed and ONSMS will continue to hold mass-vaccination sites in various locations throughout the Charlotte area, offering both Pfizer and Moderna shots, with StarMed additionally carrying the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Ball told VOA that her work also involves sharing information.
"Part of why we're here is also to answer questions. A lot of people are unsure," Ball said. "It's a one-by-one effort. If we can get just one person encouraged to get their vaccine, that's a benefit."