Organizations across Southwest, Central Virginia tackling COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

Local leaders are working to reduce myths and encouraging people to get the shot

Virginia health leaders work to build trust in vaccine
Virginia health leaders work to build trust in vaccine

ROANOKE, Va – Health leaders across Southwest and Central Virginia are seeing a drop in demand of those interested in getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Not long ago, the vaccine was hard to come by; however, supply now continues to outgrow demand, due in part to vaccine hesitancy -- something health leaders across the region are working to combat.

“We are trying to educate we are trying to control the misinformation that is spreading out there,” said New River Health Director Dr. Noelle Bissell.

But why are people still choosing not to get the shot? Staff at the Free Clinic of Central Virginia said it can be an equity issue.

“By doing it in their communities and sometimes at their actual worksites, we’re able to get folks that can’t get to those large-scale testing events,” explained clinic CEO Christina Delzingaro.

When the vaccine was first made available to staff at the clinic, nearly half chose to not receive the shot.

Their reason, they said they wanted to wait and see what happened.

“Got a couple of folks who to have waited a little bit, but I think now that the vaccine might be available for children, I think, again, just get more and more assurance that this is safe, effective vaccine, and more and more folks are taking it,” Delzingaro said.

This data lines up with numbers from nearby Centra Lynchburg General Hospital, where just 51% of staff opted to get the shot at last check.

“In our community, there are lots of people who are hesitant about all vaccines. The flu vaccine and other types of vaccines, so in some ways, this is no different than that people are just hesitant about getting shots, people don’t like to get shots,” said Delzingaro.

Now almost all staff and volunteers at the clinic are fully vaccinated.

The clinic is one part of Lynchburg’s strategy to make the vaccine accessible to underserved areas by working with community groups and churches.

“We need to keep in mind is that by doing it at their churches, in their community centers, at their work sites, there’s more an element of trust there,” Delzingaro said.

[9 things you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine]

In Roanoke, health leaders are using a new tool to help minority populations understand and trust the shot.

“When people are hearing these crazy ideas. No wonder they’re hesitant to get a vaccine if they don’t know how it works or what it’s going to do to their body,” Bilingual COVID-19 Support Specialist Katie Hedrick said.

Hedrick said she hears new reasons about why some are wary of the vaccine almost every day.

“Sometimes that’s because these families may not have a legal presence in the country and they’re always cautious of being involved anywhere where their name is written or they have to show an identification or anything like that,” Hedrick said.

Hedrick said other issues, like language barriers and a lack of trust in government, are reasons Hispanic community members are not getting the shot.

Roanoke is now working on several campaigns in hopes of encouraging people to get their shot and keep everyone safe.

" I think the fact that places like Casa Latina or other community organizations have built bridges over the last years and have really embedded themselves in this community, we’re able to kind of springboard off of those efforts and find places and people that this community already trusts,” Hedrick said.

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