Apr. 18—ALBANY — A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team has wrapped a week of work in Dougherty County focused on the two-pronged mission of learning why some may be reluctant to accept the COVID-19 vaccine and encouraging more people to roll up their sleeves for a shot.
The team met with a wide range of residents in southwest Georgia and heard some reasons that spark vaccination reservations.
"We've been talking with everybody in the community about what their feelings are about getting the vaccine," Carolina Uribe, health communications specialist with the CDC, said. "We've talked to everybody from the coroner to beauty shop owners about their feelings and what they're hearing."
About a quarter of Dougherty County residents who are eligible to be vaccinated have had at least one dose.
The two primary vaccines, versions from Pfizer and Moderna, require two shots. Use of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been temporarily suspended after there were cases of blood clots in women and one death.
What Uribe and other members of the vaccine confidence task force found was that there is a good buy-in among residents to vaccination, perhaps because COVID-19 wreaked such havoc in the community.
At one time, Dougherty County was in the unenviable category of having some of the highest rates of infections and deaths in the world. There have been 277 deaths in the county, with black residents bearing the brunt.
Because of that, many have embraced the vaccine.
"I think people here really want to end this pandemic," Uribe said. "Here, because of the severity, the memory is still there.
"I think that's what rises through (the) community. It affected all groups, some more than others. It really hit the black community really hard."
The task force team members also had a conference call with area ministers. Faith leaders are seen as a key component in both hearing why some people may be reluctant to getting vaccinated and sharing information with their congregations.
Some of the concerns expressed locally are the same as those given around the country: whether the vaccines are safe, how thoroughly they were tested and whether they are truly effective in preventing infection with the novel coronavirus.
"We are learning all kinds of information about what concerns people have," Dr. Neetu Abad said. "Some people are thinking they already had COVID, so do they really need a vaccine? We want to get that information out there in an understandable way. We also want to encourage everyone to get vaccinated."
Because southwest Georgia is a rural region where many people do not have ready access to transportation, taking the vaccine to them is going to be key, Abad said. Mobile clinics that travel to where those people are will be a big part of the solution.
Abad likened the situation to the hub and spoke of a wheel — the hub being those who live in a larger city or who have transportation and have the easiest access.
"The spoke is going to be going out now, doing pop-up (clinics) with trusted faces, churches," Abad said.
The team that worked in Albany was one of two that spent a week in Georgia, with the second working in Bacon County. The two teams will write assessments of what they found.
"Some of the things people are concerned about, they really want to have some information about how safe the vaccine is and side effects, understanding if the vaccine is appropriate for them if, for example, they have underlying health conditions," Dr. Monique Carry said. "(That includes) also knowing the vaccines were safe among people who look like them and share the same characteristics."
Among the findings in Dougherty County is that people do want to hear more, Uribe said.
"I think one thing we learned in Albany is the community is resilient," she said. "The people want information."