Submitted by Alabama Department of Public Health
Getting vaccinated is the single most effective way to help end the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is disappointing that Alabama ranks near the bottom of the states in vaccine uptake. A recent survey conducted by the Alabama Hospital Association found that 94 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were not vaccinated. The low percentage of Alabama’s population vaccinated for COVID-19 underscores the need for action to encourage everyone to do their part to reduce illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths by getting vaccinated, especially as new and highly transmissible COVID-19 variants emerge.
“We need as many of us who can take the vaccine to do so to protect those who are not eligible to take the vaccine, like our babies and small children,” said Dr. Mary McIntyre, Chief Medical Officer, Alabama Department of Public Health. “Children now make up about 21 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. This percentage continues to grow as more adults are protected by the vaccines. While the deaths from COVID-19 are now at the lowest we have seen in 14 months, 18,000 people in the U.S. died in May from COVID-19 infection. Only 150 of these were fully vaccinated. This means that nearly all deaths secondary to COVID-19 infection are now preventable.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations include collaboration with trusted messengers such as faith-based and community leaders in diverse communities in order to tailor and share culturally relevant messages. As a part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 public education campaign, Alabama healthcare organizations have launched the “We Can Do This Alabama” campaign to promote greater levels of vaccination among state residents.
The “We Can Do This Alabama” effort enlists Alabamians to become local champions and share information with their family, friends, colleagues, and community on the importance of getting vaccinated. Participants in this grassroots effort are asked to go to https://www.wecandothisalabama.com/to register as a local champion to access helpful messaging resources. Then for 4 weeks, champions are asked to encourage three new people each week to get the vaccine and recruit five additional people to serve as local champions.
The material in the “We Can Do This Alabama” campaign toolkit notes that COVID-19 can have serious, life-threatening complications, and there is no way to know its effects. Local champions disseminate clear, complete, and accurate messages about COVID-19 vaccines. Resources provide answers to frequently asked questions on vaccine benefits, effectiveness, safety, possible side effects, and availability.
Information about what is known and what is unknown is provided. Other resources in the toolkit include questions to ask doctors about COVID-19 and chronic illness, for caregivers of older adults, communities of color, rural leaders, physicians, and others.
Some Alabamians live in “information bubbles” that are hard to break to overcome vaccine hesitancy. Other people live in pockets of the state where there are low rates of vaccination, but trusted local friends and members of their faith communities who support vaccination may make the difference in dispelling myths and answering individual questions. It is helpful to know people personally to communicate effectively one-on-one. Once a person makes the decision to be vaccinated, champions may offer to help the person by making an appointment, providing transportation, or assisting in other ways, such as sitting with children or older adults.
The “We Can Do This Alabama” campaign describes this time in history as “a pivotal moment in ending the pandemic” and calls for COVID-19 vaccination as quickly as possible for as many people as possible. COVID-19 vaccination is an essential tool in helping end the pandemic, and each person who is vaccinated helps assure a healthier community and state.
All Alabamians have an opportunity to be champions by presenting the facts about COVID-19 vaccines to their own circle of family, friends, acquaintances, and others outside their sphere who are hesitant to be vaccinated. By motivating reluctant people to be vaccinated, they are helping prevent the spread of the virus that has taken the lives of more than 11,000 state residents.
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