A coalition led by Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield will attempt to educate Arkansans about the COVID-19 vaccine and ask employers to take a pledge that they will “strongly encourage” their employees to be vaccinated.
The “Vaccinate The Natural State” initiative (www.VaccinateTheNaturalState.com) was announced at a press conference Feb. 22 led by Curtis Barnett, Blue Cross president and CEO.
Partners include the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, the Arkansas Minority Health Commission, the Northwest Arkansas Council, UAMS and Walmart.
Barnett said the pandemic has reached a hopeful time with the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Vaccines are marvels of medical science, but they cannot work unless enough of us do our part and accept them when it’s our turn,” he said.
The campaign begins in mid-March. Barnett said the initiative will have two areas of focus: a business to business engagement and a community engagement.
As part of the business efforts, the coalition will reach out to employers. The website will provide information, video modules and tool kits with digital and print resources.
“We believe employers have a crucial role to play in building confidence in vaccines, and that they are eager to fill that role,” he said.
Randy Zook, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said the initiative “signals a stepped up effort to get on with things.” He announced the creation of the “Power Over Pandemic Pledge” that employers will be asked to take.
“We know that nearly all employees consider their employer a trusted source of information, and it’s time to put that influence to good use,” he said.
Employers who take the pledge say they will lead by example by receiving the vaccine “as soon as I am able.” Zook said he had already received his first shot and would receive his second Friday. Pledge takers say they will “strongly encourage all medically able employees and others in my organization” to be vaccinated. They also say they will provide resources their associates need “to make an informed decision in favor of being vaccinated.” Finally, pledge takers say they will make it as easy as possible for members of their organization to be vaccinated.
Zook said he had already taken the pledge along with Barnett and Ray Hanley, president and CEO of the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, who also spoke at the press conference.
Barnett said the pandemic has heightened awareness of the state’s and nation’s health disparities. He said individuals will be reached with targeted information about the vaccine, encouragement to be vaccinated, and access to vaccinations.
Efforts could include vaccination events, funding for equipment to distribute vaccines closer to remote areas, and “getting people to the vaccine.”
Barnett closed the press conference by saying it’s understandable that some people will be confused or conflicted about receiving the vaccine.
However, he said, “Vaccination protects my family, supports the valiant efforts of our heroic health care workers and scientists, and honors the memory of those that have fallen to COVID-19. It would be a shame to let vaccine fear, mistrust and misinformation allow the pandemic to rage on and claim even more lives.”