How community’s ‘trusted messengers’ are trying to end vaccine reluctance

April 29, 2021

The supply of COVID vaccines now exceeds demand, in part because everyone who wanted to receive the vaccine and had the capacity to get one did so.

Among those who are not vaccinated, some are firm in their refusal to roll up their sleeves, while others simply cannot afford to enter the system. Still others feel cautious, but remain open to the possibility of getting vaccinated.

To reach out to the latter two groups, the State Department of Public Health has partnered with the United Way of Southeastern CT and Hartford HealthCare to launch the Trusted Messenger program.

In two recent Zoom meetings, 30 representatives from New London County Social Services, private nonprofits and others came together to hear how to effectively talk to their clients about COVID vaccines and provide resources for these people are scheduled for vaccines. (In the photo above, Joseph Nales receives a vaccine from nurse Joanne Kombert at a recent vaccination clinic at Windham Heights Apartments in Willimantic, organized as part of the Trusted Messenger program.)

“You are all here in the role of the trusted professional,” said Joseph Zuzel, director of community health for East Hartford HealthCare, which includes Backus and Windham hospitals.

“We want to give the facts and information about COVID vaccines so that you can address the concerns of your communities. This will help you defend these people and they will in turn be able to defend their interests. “

Focusing on vaccine equity and ensuring that all eligible Connecticut residents are able to get vaccinated, three partners said Carter Johnson, a program facilitator working with the State Department of Health public:

  • The state, who is responsible for providing resources and information and for coordinating vaccine distribution.
  • Community partners, such as municipal agencies and private non-profit organizations that work with populations at risk;
  • Health care providers, who provide the vaccine.

“Community partners are essential in their role as they inspire, help and engage,” Johnson said. “There are a number of ways you can share the correct information. You can help people make and keep their immunization appointments. And you can advocate for the needs of your communities by providing us with feedback on how we can be better. “

As of April 22, 2.8 million doses of the vaccine had been administered in Connecticut and more than 40 percent of the adult population had been vaccinated. Dr William Horgan, medical director of quality and safety at Backus and Windham Hospitals, noted that the national ‘target’ for herd immunity with 70% vaccinated does not take into account that some demographics at across the country do not meet this threshold due to accessibility issues, fear and mistrust of government.

“The virus will continue to decimate these communities,” he said. “This is why these collaborations are so essential. We need to know what these populations need, what their barriers are to getting the vaccine, so that we can respond. “

Barriers identified include poverty, non-English speakers, medically fragile / disabled, geographically isolated, lack of health care provider, lack of internet access, lack of transportation, mistrust of government and immigration status.

Zuzel noted that about 25% of adults in the United States currently said they would not get the vaccine. Of these, 18% say that if the vaccine was available and someone they trusted would get it, r recommends that they get it, then they would agree.

“These are people we can reach,” he said. “But not through traditional marketing. Through you. “

The training was very well received. A person who works with homebound clients said she was unaware that the state offered home vaccines to people who were housebound and would be spending the rest of her day working to secure appointments. you of its customers. Another said she was working with men of color, many of whom say they won’t get the vaccine. “But you gave me the right strategy to tell them, ‘This is one way to protect your family. If you do, they will. “

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