Healthy Savannah seeks relief from hesitation over COVID-19 vaccine

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Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia are working to build confidence in COVID-19 vaccines in a large part of our community that is still hesitant to get vaccinated and to reduce the risk of serious consequences from infection. As of Friday, only 55% of Chatham County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine; only 49% are fully immunized, according to the Coastal Health District. Statistics in Bryan and Effingham counties are even lower: 46% and 36% are fully immunized, respectively.

On September 27 at 6:30 p.m., the two non-profit organizations will host a joint virtual listening session to better understand residents’ concerns. Residents interested in participating should confirm their attendance to [email protected] A link will be sent to those who RSVP.

In four previous listening sessions, Healthy Savannah has learned that the sins of the past still cause mistrust, according to Nichele Hoskins, COVID / Flu communications manager at Healthy Savannah.

Participants cited the Tuskegee Experiments, a 40-year study conducted by the US government on a group of nearly 600 black men, mostly sharecroppers, with and without syphilis who provided no significant treatment while tracking full progress. of disease. The men were told they were being treated for “bad blood”.

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Residents also referred to Dr. Marion J. Sims, a physician in the 1800s who invented modern gynecological techniques by operating without anesthesia on enslaved black women, Hoskins said.

A general distrust of science, Hoskins said, could stem from a local military study called “Operation Big Buzz,” a since declassified military program that has tested the viability of deploying mosquitoes as a form of war against them. diseases by dropping thousands of mosquitoes on the Black neighborhood of Carver Village.

“Since then things have changed, we have informed consent rules that prevent this kind of thing from happening,” Hoskins said. “However, there are people who still don’t trust the government. And the reasons [for not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine] vary.”

Hoskins also heard from residents that the vaccine is magnetic or that it will insert a chip inside them.

“It is vitally important for us to listen, in part because these communities are often overlooked or ignored,” Hoskins said.

Elsie Smalls, director of operations for Healthy Savannah, said she heard residents worry about how quickly vaccines were created and released to the public.

“For people who might hear about this listening session, this is a non-judgmental area,” Smalls said. “It’s not about questioning anyone’s decision. It’s just about hearing what they think and where they get their information from so that we can make sure that the information they are getting. “They understand and get is valid. Then they can make an informed decision.”

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To help residents make informed decisions, Healthy Savannah will also recruit and train up to 65 community health equity advocates, starting in October. Once ready on the ground, advocates will meet with businesses, neighborhoods and faith-based organizations to listen to residents and help create “community-acceptable approaches to improve immunization availability, accessibility and confidence.” , according to Hoskins. Advocates will receive $ 500 upon completing the program, which is funded by the Additional Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant.

Those interested in applying for one of the 65 community advocate positions should visit healthysavannah.org/community-advocate-program.

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