Public health departments confront vaccine messaging challenge

Posted at 10:13 AM, Jul 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-09 11:15:52-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As Missouri navigates a surge in COVID-19 cases, public health departments are confronting how to vaccinate more people in their communities across the state.

Messaging and cutting through a web of misinformation is one of the challenges in front of health and elected officials.

"Vaccines are the way that we can be safer here in Missouri and in this part of the country, I think that's why you see low infection rates and low infection numbers in a number of states across the country where they've had high vaccination rates, whereas here in the Midwest and the southern Midwest, unfortunately, we're not where we need to be," Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas said. "We continue to preach the importance of it, we continue to work with groups to set up vaccine events. We will continue to share they can go to the Kansas City Health Department, get vaccinated today and make sure you're protecting your community."

Per the health department's most recent figures, the citywide vaccination rate for those who are fully inoculated is 37.5%. The national rate for full vaccination is 47.6%.

"When you're hovering around a 40% rate, then it is obvious that we have some problems. It is obvious that we have not gotten the messaging out to the public, to the extent we needed to in connection with vaccines are important in connection with it's easy to do and so those trusted leaders, those trusted leaders can be clergy people, those trusted leaders can be your employer, co-workers, so many others. We're working with more of them to make sure that folks know and understand just how vital it is that we make sure that we're addressing these issues long term and so that's what I think we're going to continue to push in Kansas City," Lucas said.

41 Action News also spoke to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department in Southwest Missouri, where they are experiencing the current COVID-19 surge due to the Delta variant. They are stepping up their efforts to get the message of safety and effectiveness to their community, and doing so on social media frequently.

"If people ask questions you know, I've heard this and they're looking for more information, you know we'll absolutely provide that, but we do get quite a few individuals who are, who have bought into some of this misinformation and are bent on just spreading that, we don't really engage in that, because that's not really a winning battle, our role in this, as to supply the other side of that, put out and be proactive about putting out the correct information rather than going through and responding to every individual tweet, comment, etc," Springfield-Green County Health Department spokesperson Aaron Schekorra said.

They're also getting the word out to the rest of Missouri that their situation can happen anywhere.

"We are trying to communicate to people that what's happening here is absolutely something that can and will happen in other communities that have low vaccine uptake," Schekorra said. "There's nothing unique about the situation that we're experiencing, the Delta variant is the predominant variant in the entire country and so no matter where you are, even if you're not in an area that's experiencing a surge right now, you need to get vaccinated."

Across the state line, one health department is trying a different approach.

"It's also important to keep our ear to the ground a little bit about what misconceptions or confusion there might be about COVID-19 information. For example, we recently did some focus groups with folks who, mostly with people who aren't they haven't decided if they are going to get vaccinated or not and learning more about their perspectives and maybe why they aren't sure about getting vaccinated, where they're getting their information," Unified Government of Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County Public Health Department spokesperson Janell Friesen said.