Meridian organizations combat vaccine hesitancy, one conversation at a time

Anne Snabes / The Meridian Star

Wilbert Jones, the CEO of Greater Meridian Health Clinic, and Beverly Hearn, the clinic's education outreach director, are leading an effort to get more Meridianites vaccinated. Their clinic has a mobile vaccination unit that goes to locations around Meridian to vaccinate people.

Beverly Hearn has educated people about the COVID-19 vaccine in unlikely places.

She’s been to apartment complexes and a hair salon. She's even planning to visit a  barbershop and Uptown Meridian, a local mall, later this month. 

In these locations, Hearn, the education outreach director for Greater Meridian Health Clinic, clears up misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccination.

“You get a chance to do a lot of education and outreach out in the community,” she said.

Hearn runs Greater Meridian Health Clinic’s mobile vaccination unit. The unit staff travel in a van around Meridian, talking to people about the COVID-19 vaccine and offering vaccinations. 

Greater Meridian Health Clinic is one of several local organizations promoting COVID-19 vaccination. Churches and doctors’ offices are encouraging people to get their shot, too.

These efforts are necessary in Lauderdale County because, as of Wednesday, only 33% of county residents were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The U.S., by comparison, had a full vaccination rate of 48% on Wednesday. Mississippi is the least vaccinated state, as only 31% of residents are fully vaccinated.

To combat this problem, local organizations are dispelling myths about the COVID-19 vaccine and addressing barriers that prevent people from getting vaccinated.

Role of health clinics

Greater Meridian Health Clinic, a federally qualified health center, is vaccinating people at its clinic on Davis Street. The clinic is also holding vaccination events in Meridian neighborhoods.

While they are in a neighborhood, clinic staff knock on doors to see if residents want to get the vaccine.

“We have gotten people to come out of their homes to get it,” Hearn said.

She explained that some residents face barriers, like a lack of access to transportation, that prevent them from getting vaccinated.

“So we go to them,” she said. “We meet them where they are.”

Another barrier is vaccine hesitancy. Hearn said residents have heard myths about the COVID-19 vaccine.

When the mobile vaccination unit travels to neighborhoods around Meridian, the staff educate local residents about vaccination while dispelling falsehoods.

Greater Meridian Health Clinic has hosted vaccination clinics at each of the Meridian Housing Authority properties, said Ron Turner, MHA director. The clinic also vaccinated people at MHA’s Strong Families and Fun Festival Day in June.

These efforts are meant to increase MHA residents’ access to the vaccine.

“A lot of the communities that we serve in the Meridian Housing Authority are underserved,” Turner said. “So we wanted to sort of limit whatever excuses there were for actually taking this vaccine and making it readily available to our residents.”

Wilbert Jones, the CEO of Greater Meridian, said the counties in Mississippi that have vaccination programs similar to his clinic’s tend to have higher vaccination rates than the statewide rate.

Jones believes that in each county, health workers should go into communities to vaccinate people.

“I think everybody’s gotta adopt this concept,” he said.

Meridian doctors promote COVID-19 vaccination

Dr. Keith Everett, the chief medical officer of Anderson Regional Health System, said physicians at Anderson have been talking with their patients about the COVID-19 vaccine. He emphasized that everybody needs to get vaccinated.

Meridian organizations combat vaccine hesitancy, one conversation at a time

Anne Snabes / The Meridian Star

Dr. Doug Phillips, a family medicine doctor at Meridian Medical Associates, asks all of his patients whether they’ve gotten vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Another physician promoting vaccination is Dr. Doug Phillips, a family medicine doctor at Meridian Medical Associates. He asks all of his patients whether they’ve gotten vaccinated. If they haven’t, he talks with them about the vaccine.

Some of his patients are hesitant to get immunized against COVID-19 because they are concerned about the rapid development of the vaccine. Others say they are afraid of it. 

“To which I generally give them a kind of blank stare for a minute and say, ‘Why do you not think you need it? Don’t you watch television? Don’t you know how many people have died of this illness?’” Phillips said.

He also tells his patients that when you get vaccinated, “you’re not only taking it for yourself, you’re taking it for everyone else.”

He estimated that about 50% of the patients he’s had these conversations with ended up saying they’ll get immunized. But he's not able to convince some individuals.

“There’s some people that I know are never going to get the vaccine,” he said.

Pastors also spread the word about vaccination

Some Meridian pastors are using their position as influential members of the community to promote vaccination.

The Rev. Maurice Lee is one example. He has encouraged the members of Macedonia Primitive Baptist Church to get vaccinated and has advised them to talk with a medical professional if they have any concerns about vaccination.

Meridian organizations combat vaccine hesitancy, one conversation at a time

Anne Snabes / The Meridian Star

The Rev. Maurice Lee has encouraged the members of Macedonia Primitive Baptist Church to get vaccinated against COVID-19. He is among several leaders in Meridian who are promoting the vaccine. 

Lee’s work has has an effect. Most older members of his church have gotten vaccinated.

He said that while some of the younger members have gotten the vaccine, others have not.

“A lot of younger people are reluctant,” he said.

Lee said one solution to Mississippi’s stagnant vaccination rate is to educate people about the vaccine.

He also believes that when members of the African American community see other community members, especially influential individuals like pastors, get vaccinated, that can encourage them to get immunized.

The Rev. Eugene Boger has also been promoting COVID-19 vaccination. His church, St. Paul United Methodist Church, hosted an informational session in March about the vaccine. He is also hoping that St. Paul will host a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

Boger explained that one of the pillars of the United Methodist Church is to do no harm. He noted that vaccinations not only protect the individual who gets inoculated — they also protect other people.

“It’s our effort to do our part to protect others,” he said.

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