Listen MKE: Tackling Persistent Vaccine Hesitancy During The Pandemic
As the pandemic rages on, vaccine hesitancy persists, especially in communities of color. So how can we best address the questions and concerns people have about vaccines, how they're made, and the long term impact they have? These are some of the questions addressed in our latest Listen MKE Facebook Live conversation on Tuesday, September 14.
Listen MKE is an initiative created by WUWM, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee PBS and the Milwaukee Public Library to help Milwaukee's north side residents get the information they want and need.
Dr. Kevin Izard, is the chair of family medicine at Ascension St. Joseph; Dr. Zeno Franco is an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin; and Dr. Lyle Ignace is the CEO of the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center. They've all taken on outsized roles in providing accurate information to communities of color in a bid to help end the pandemic, and they joined investigative solutions reporter Talis Shelbourne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for a conversation.
Ignace began, "With with the launching of the vaccines, with Moderna, Pfizer, J&J, we've had all types of reasons why individuals didn't want to get vaccinated. And [concern] generally revolves around the idea that this was generated too fast, wasn't FDA approved, is it safe enough, and a general mistrust of authority figures in promoting the vaccine."
Izard and Franco agreed with Ignace. They both add that when it comes to vaccine hesitation, people forget that there's been a lot of work done in mRNA technology over a 10 year period. The doctors encounter many people who believe that getting or not getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a civil liberty.
"Unfortunately, the harder you push, the harder they push back," said Franco. "And regardless of what information you give them, because of what information you can show them. Now that's convincing. It just becomes an issue of you can't make me do it. And [if you] try to make me do it, the more I'm not going to do it."
In addiction, vaccine hesitation could come from pandemic fatigue.
Izard acknowledged, "A lot of us are getting compassion fatigue, you know, we kind of dealt with this, we've been dealing with this, we got to a point where it looked like things were getting better, we got to take their mask off , and now the masks are back on, and people are frustrated. And so I was thinking, this is an invitation to blame and to fight about it. Because, again [it goes] back to our civil liberties issue," he said.
Communities of color have been particularly hesitant to take the vaccine. The Medical College of Wisconsin has been doing outreach and engaging with community health workers in these communities to combat the hesitancy. Franco explained, "I'm one of a handful of Hispanic faculty at the Medical College. And so, you know, I've been kind of heavily involved in trying to work on this on the south side [of Milwaukee]. But we've also been trying to work in the African American community, in the Southeast Asian community and in the Native American community through advancing a healthier Wisconsin Foundation grant that was completed."
In addition to reaching out to minority communities, combating hesitancy can include reaching out to one's personal physician. From the three doctors' perspective, a big part of combating hesitancy involves having a deep conversation about COVID-19.
"When it comes to more of the interpersonal relationship between you and your provider, I think it's important and having the moment to be able to ask and have all your questions answered in the moment, is certainly a lot more powerful one-on-one," said Ignace.
But above all else, the doctors insist that people should consider taking the vaccine to protect their own families.
Franco said, "My father has a long term degenerative lung disease. And for us to be able to see him this summer, we had to all get vaccinated. Because I don't want to be responsible for my father's death. It's that simple. And so I think if you think about it within your own family, you can also see that we also have an obligation to those around us in our community to try to stop the number of deaths. 300 to 300,000 felt like a lot. Now we're at 600,000. We're approaching 700,000 deaths in the United States. Those are people that we know and love."