Here’s what we’re doing to reach out to Tarrant residents hesitant to get COVID vaccine

·3 min read

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to no longer recommend that fully vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors was a much-welcomed light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel for so many of us.

But with less than 40 percent of people in Tarrant and Dallas counties fully vaccinated, this step toward normalcy must not detract from our critical goal of vaccinating as many North Texans as possible.

Demand for the vaccine had nose-dived even before the new mask guidance. The lines of cars and people outside mass vaccination sites and lengthy waiting lists are gone. Some larger sites have closed. We built it, and they came — for a while.

Most North Texans who eagerly awaited availability of the vaccine are now inoculated. Now begins our more difficult work of reaching those communities where people, for whatever reason, have been unwilling or unable to receive the vaccine.

Those who are resistant to vaccines generally fall into three groups. First, there are vaccine-hesitant people who are generally skeptical of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Second, are individuals who historically don’t trust the health care system and government, sometimes for good reason such as the infamous Tuskegee Experiment.

Third are the “wait and see” individuals who aren’t necessarily vaccine hesitant or mistrustful, but may be cautiously waiting for full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rather than the emergency use authorization that currently covers coronavirus vaccines.

Our conversations with these groups must be respectful and lead with listening and understanding. Their concerns are real, and we must answer questions with fact-based information to help these individuals make an informed decision about the vaccination. Individuals and community leaders sharing their vaccine experiences with friends, family and neighbors is helpful.

It may take two or three interactions to build trust and comfort. That’s one reason the University of North Texas Health Science Center and Tarrant County are shifting strategy away from large, static vaccines sites to smaller, mobile “pop-up clinics” at locations where people naturally gather.

The set sites were appropriate when demand was greater. Now, the pop-up model allows for mobility and better one-on-one interactions with community members at locations where they are comfortable and surrounded by people they know.

This could be a neighborhood grocery store, a church or at a little league ballfield. The government presence or medical facility-feel that causes tension is absent. HSC has successfully used this model to offer free health and vision screenings for children at community events.

Business and community leaders will play an important role by collaborating with organizations providing vaccines. Imagine a pop-up vaccine site at a large warehouse or production line at shift change or at a festival or community event. Simply providing convenience and comfort can go a long way toward building trust and vaccinating our community.

Organizations or businesses interested in hosting a pop-up site can now request one through a new feature on the HSC and Tarrant County vaccine information website TarrantCountyStrong.com. Logistical factors such as parking and access will affect whether a location is viable, but we stand ready to think outside the box and create solutions.

Together, we can emerge from this tunnel sooner and stronger.

Dr. Sylvia Trent-Adams is chief strategy officer at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth and a former U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary for health.

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