Chance encounter at sports bar causes anti-vax man to change his mind

OCALA, Fla. — Mark Hall was very clear about where he stood on coronavirus vaccines -- never, ever would he get one.

“I’ve been against the shot since before the shot was even born,” he said. “Timelines weren’t adding up for me. It seemed like the perfect storm.”

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Like many Americans, Hall had a number of concerns about the shots, from what they were made of to how safe they were. He said he spent days researching the answers to his many questions, sometimes late into the night.

The research provided little, and often confused him more. News articles had inconsistent information, and friends’ posts on social media weren’t helping.

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“It just seemed like the information was forever changing,” he recalled. “One news outlet would put something and then another one would put something and they were always contradictory.”

The Ocala man didn’t expect answers to finally come during a visit to a sports bar.

A Conversation Between a Vaccine-Hesitant Man and a Doctor

Mark Hall was against the COVID-19 vaccine. One night at Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille + Visors, renowned cancer researcher and director of the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Duane Mitchell, MD, PhD, sat down next to Mark by chance. The two got to talking about the vaccine and Mark asked Dr. Mitchell all of the questions he had about the vaccine's safety and effectiveness. After three hours of respectful conversation, Mark decided he was ready to get vaccinated if Dr. Mitchell was by his side. Hear their story.

Posted by UF Health on Thursday, October 7, 2021

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Earlier this month, Hall was settling into his seat at Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille in Gainesville when another man asked him if the empty seat next to him was available. It was.

That’s how Hall met Dr. Duane Mitchell, a neurosurgeon and University of Florida Assistant Vice President for Research, who had come to the bar for dinner after getting off work late.

“There were literally no seats anywhere in the bar, anywhere in the restaurant at all,” Mitchell recalled. “One spot opened up next to the gentleman I ended up talking to. He looked over and said, well, you are in a suit, and it’s 90 degrees out. What’s your story?”

Mitchell said the conversation started with cancer research before pivoting to COVID and vaccines.

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“I literally just started bombarding him probably with questions,” Hall said. “He probably was second guessing his dinner at Spurrier’s at this point.”

Second guessing or not, Mitchell recognized that Hall was genuinely interested in what he had to say, and allowed the conversation to last around three hours. The pattern established itself: Mitchell would make a point, Hall would counter, and then Mitchell would sort out what was fiction vs. fact.

“Just hearing all the conversations and already doing hours upon hours of research, I mean, he solidified what made sense,” Hall said.

Mitchell said he never went into the conversation expecting to change Hall’s mind. The two remembered Mitchell eventually asking if Hall would be open to a vaccination.

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“I made a joke,” Hall said. “If you give it to me, I’ll take it. And literally, he stood up, done, we’ll figure out a way.”

Mitchell said he was even more surprised when Hall followed through. A video posted by the University of Florida showed Hall getting his dose, with Mitchell beaming in the doorway.

“It wasn’t until that point that I actually realized that it had made a difference,” Mitchell explained.

Hall offered Mitchell insight into vaccine resistance and said he was working to convince other holdouts he knew that the shots were both safe and effective.

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When asked what about the conversation caused him to change his mind, he was firm.

“It’s because I shook a man’s hand, I can look him in the eye, and I knew with sincere conviction that he meant everything that he said,” Hall explained. “In a world of distrust you don’t know what’s right, what’s wrong… I said, you know what? If he’s saying, then that’s how I know.”

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