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Inside the effort to reach the vaccine hesitant communities

  • (From left) The Greater Monadnock Public Health Network’s Kerry Kelley and Kelsey Trombley, and Morgan Britton of Southwestern Community Services do COVID-19 vaccination outreach at SCS to people experiencing homelessness on June 15. Courtesy of Kerry Kelly

Keene Sentinel Source
Published: 6/18/2021 3:05:26 PM

In the six months since the first COVID-19 shots were administered in New Hampshire, state figures show that 60% of residents have gotten at least one dose. Now, the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network is trying to reach those still on the sidelines.

“It’s important to address vaccine hesitancy as COVID-19 vaccines are one important and effective tool to help us keep our communities healthy and well,” said Tricia Zahn, director of the public health network, which oversees the Keene vaccination site.

The site recently moved from Krif Road to indoor space at 62 Maple Ave. More than 72,000 shots have been given at these locations to date.

Like Zahn, other public health experts say vaccination is the best way to end the pandemic and return to normalcy. In the United States, vaccines are now approved for anyone 12 and up.

The Greater Monadnock Public Health Network is using a range of strategies to encourage more people to get shots, from launching pop-up vaccination clinics this month to debunking false information.

Sixteen pop-up clinics have been held so far, Zahn said, with the most recent one this past Saturday at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester. Local pop-ups have also been held at Keene State College, The Community Kitchen in Keene, Keene Public Library, SwampBats games and Railroad Square in Keene.

The network selects pop-up sites based on which organizations are willing to host them, and is also looking to include sites outside Keene to reach more people.

“So the speedway was one of those opportunities where you think large groups gathering in more rural locations,” Zahn said.

The clinics not only help get shots in arms – 20 people were vaccinated Saturday, and more than 1,000 vaccines have been given at pop-up clinics – but she said they also provide a space for people to ask questions.

“It allows us to have open and honest conversations with the community about the vaccine,” Zahn said. “One of our main strategies is meeting the community where they are at, and having these low-pressure conversations.”

Most of those who’ve said they won’t or aren’t sure they’ll get vaccinated have chalked up their hesitancy to not wanting to miss work, according to Zahn.

“One of the main (reasons) we’ve heard is fitting it into their schedule because they are concerned about side effects,” she said.

The most common side effects from any of the three vaccines approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration – made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – include swelling or pain at the injection site, fever, headache, tiredness, muscle pains, chills and nausea, all of which typically last 24 to 48 hours after the dose.

To combat these worries, the network is trying to reduce the barriers to vaccination as much as possible, according to Zahn, such as hosting school and employer-based clinics to make immunization more convenient.

The clinics – like many others nationwide – also have incentives to get more people interested.

The public health network has given away duffle bags, water bottles and power-bank chargers for cellphones, Zahn said. Depending on where the clinic is being held, the hosting organization has also stepped up to the plate with free goodies.

“The speedway decided on their own to do a free entry into a raffle, and same thing for the SwampBats, they did free tickets, so we do know that incentives work with some campaigns,” she said.

The next first-dose clinic at the Maple Avenue site is scheduled for June 26 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. More details will be released as the date gets closer, Zahn said.

Moving forward, Zahn said the public health network will continue to find the best ways to reach folks who are worried about immunization.

“We are just trying to better understand the root causes of hesitancy,” she said, “and how we can help folks have a better understanding of the benefits of vaccinations.”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.

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