Ajax Search

Reducing Vaccine Hesitancy in Arkansas

With the Public Health Emergency (PHE) ending in May, there are bound to be some people who no longer think it is essential to continue getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Some experts think the COVID vaccine will become a yearly shot, like the flu shot. AFMC’s Community Health Workers (CHWs) educate Arkansas patients and providers on important vaccination updates and safety protocols. They’re preparing for a changing conversation about vaccination post-PHE. It’s imperative that, no matter what happens, efforts to educate and promote vaccination continue, even for those who are the most adamant about not getting shots.

AFMC’s CHWs attend vaccination events every week to administer shots, educate the public, and provide handouts that people can use to find more resources. AFMC’s epidemiologist and director of the Data Sciences and Public Health Programs, Dr. Kristy Bondurant, says her team works in the community to administer COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots. “Some community events have many people, but there may be some where we just give one or two shots,” she says. Regardless of how many shots they administer, Dr. Bondurant’s team considers vaccinating even one individual to be a success. “There’s lots of information out there about how many people in the population have either had the virus itself or have been vaccinated. So, we’re getting to the point where we’re having some decent immunity building up,” Dr. Bondurant says. While this immunity helps prevent a larger spread, it’s not perfect. The coronavirus mutates often, so it is important to continue vaccination efforts. “We’ve made a lot of progress overall in vaccinating people,” Dr. Bondurant says.

The coronavirus mutates often, so it is important to continue vaccination efforts.

Promoting Vaccination Rates Starts with Education

Much of the CHWs' success in vaccinating has come from educational outreach. Stephanie Holmes-Bennett, supervisor of the CHW and Public Programs team, works with her team to educate Arkansas communities and distribute key vaccine information. “We distribute flyers at food banks, churches, and libraries. We speak at city council and chamber of commerce meetings and provide a constant flow of educational materials as things change with the shot.” Currently, CHWs are answering questions about the COVID boosters and what the vaccine administration will look like each year.

CHWs research various topics surrounding vaccines to ensure that the information they’re distributing to the public is accurate. “When the project started, they did a lot of homework on misinformation and the hesitancy of getting COVID vaccines,” Stephanie says. “As the project has progressed, they’ve also answered questions about flu shots, shingles vaccines, and other vaccinations and how to minimize the spread of various viruses. In addition to providing education, CHWs offer help scheduling appointments with physicians and navigating options for increasing access to health care.

All CHWs employed with AFMC undergo extensive training to ensure they are prepared to answer questions and educate the community. “CHWs attend extensive training sessions with ImmunizeAR to teach them how to approach individuals who are hesitant or against the COVID vaccine. CHWs also learn active listening skills and how to respond in a kind, respectful way. They learn to direct the public to websites or online resources with valid, factual vaccination information.” Through this training with ImmunizeAR, the CHWs also attend webinars, where they listen to physicians talk to their patients and learn the importance of empathy, understanding patients' concerns, and calculating their approach to communicating with others.

Reducing Vaccine Hesitancy 20230329 02AFMC's Community Health Workers undergo extensive training to ensure they are prepared to answer questions and educate the community about vaccines. Their training includes learning how to talk about vaccines in a respectful and kind way.

Improving Vaccination Rates in Minority Communities

AFMC’s CHWs recognized a critical need for Arkansas’ Hispanic community to be educated on vaccine safety. In Arkansas, vaccination numbers among the Hispanic community are low. To help increase vaccination numbers, CHWs provided critical health information to the Hispanic community that they could not get elsewhere. Fernando Murillo Ordonez, a member of the CHW team, describes his work with the Hispanic community: “At first, we provided person-to-person contact with the Hispanic population. Then, we created a relationship with the Mexican Consulate.” It took some convincing, but our CHWs encouraged Arkansas’ Mexican Consulate to set up a clinic where members could stop by and get vaccinated. Due to a cultivated partnership with ImmunizeAR, AFMC provided COVID-19 vaccinations at this location.

Not everyone at the Consulate was keen on taking the vaccine. To help encourage people to get the vaccine, CHWs gave out educational handouts. “The handouts had myths and facts about the COVID vaccine. Every 30 minutes, I encouraged people to get vaccinated and let them know that we were just here to help answer any questions they had.” At the same time, the Consulate leaders were talking to the community and informing people of the vaccination process. People didn’t have to be citizens or provide a driver’s license to get a vaccine, they just had to show up. That helped people develop trust in our CHW team. “When people started getting up and volunteering to get the shot,” Fernando says, “we started getting a great response.”

Every 30 minutes, I encouraged people to get vaccinated and let them know that we were just here to answer any questions they had.

Today, AFMC provides flu shots and COVID-19 vaccinations at the Mexican Consulate every other week. People come from all over the South, including Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Around 20 of the 200 people that pass through the Consulate at every event come to get vaccinated.

What Does the Future Look Like for COVID-19 Vaccinations?

“This is moving from the Public Health Emergency to a commercialization of the vaccine,” Dr. Bondurant says. “We anticipate the CDC recommends this as part of the annual vaccine series for children and adults.” Providers likely won’t learn all the details about administering the COVID vaccine until the fall, when the flu vaccines start being administered. “Scientists are also working on testing and approving an RSV vaccine,” Dr. Bondurant adds. “That’s coming down the line as well.” Experts anticipate that those over 60 would be approved to get the RSV vaccine. Individuals over 60 may be eligible to receive the RSV, COVID-19, and flu vaccines every fall if approved.

Regardless of when information is released regarding the administration of the COVID vaccine, it’s important for providers to remember that multiple organizations are involved in the approval and testing process for vaccines. “You may see an FDA approval for COVID vaccine administration post-PHE, but you also have a committee from the CDC that makes the recommendations,” Dr. Bondurant says. “There are other agencies and committees involved.” Messaging and communication with patients will change whenever new vaccines are approved.

A Change in How We Talk about Vaccines

As researchers and experts navigate the post-PHE world, they must be prepared to answer new questions and provide new recommendations. Should patients get three vaccines (RSV, COVID, and flu) simultaneously? Should the vaccines be spread out? “We know there’s going to be some communication and more education on how the process will look in the future,” Dr. Bondurant says. “We may not know what’s going on now, but we can see what’s coming on the horizon.” The hope is that, instead of rapid policy changes and new boosters for the COVID vaccine, it will become more normalized and part of our annual vaccine process.

Reducing Vaccine Hesitancy 20230329 01According to the CDC, 59.8% of Arkansans are fully immunized. 10.4% of the population ages 5 and up are partially immunized, one of the lowest rankings in the U.S.According to the CDC, only 59.8% of Arkansans are fully immunized. 10.4% of the population ages 5 and up are partially immunized. This ranks low among all U.S. states. The community’s attitude toward the COVID vaccine has cooled significantly since the start of the pandemic. Those eager to get the vaccine and new boosters continue to get them. Those who have been adamantly against the vaccine continue to be adamantly against it. That trend exists nationwide. Despite some of the pushback against the vaccine, there remains a need for continual education and discussion regarding vaccination.

“I think the conversation has changed from vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, to being engaged, informed, and active about your health,” Dr. Bondurant says. “Yes, in the Public Health Emergency, we did have a hyper-focus on COVID and on vaccines, but really and truly, after the wave has dissipated, we really want people to be able to have those conversations with their providers about their health if there’s anything they need to catch up on, what other things need to be addressed.”

As providers, it’s critical that we are still building trust with our patients, no matter how the conversation goes. Providers are the resource for building trust and starting those key conversations about health. “If a provider recommends something to the patient, the patient is much more likely to follow through than if they get the information elsewhere,” Dr. Bondurant says. “That’s something that’s been part of health for a long time. It’s nothing new. We’re just refocusing on encouraging people to address their overall health concerns and work with providers on that.”

As providers, it's critical that we are still building trust with our patients, no matter how the conversation goes.

It's imperative that health care providers continue to promote regular vaccinations and educate their patients on what to expect going forward. While most patients read information about vaccines and the coronavirus on social media and on the news, it is up to providers to now be a trusted resource for patients to ensure that they are making the best possible decisions about vaccinations. In the ever-changing world that we live in, patients must find new avenues to carry on conversations with health care professionals and make informed decisions about their health care.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit the CDC’s COVID-19 Vaccines page.

Follow AFMC's Facebook page for alerts about COVID and flu vaccination events in your area.

Follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube for more information on important health care topics.

Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest news and updates, including the most recent episode of AFMC TV.

Media Contacts

Eldrina Easterly

Mobile: 501-553-7607

Chris Hughes

Office: 501-212-8742
Mobile: 501-553-7651

Media Requests

Follow Us

Facebook iconTwitter iconYoutube iconX logo 2024YouTube Icon 2023

Download Free Tools and Resources