Blue Cross officials: Initiative hopes to overcome vaccine hesitancy

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 483 views 

(photo courtesy of Walmart Inc.)

A coalition of healthcare and business organizations are prepared to take vaccine distribution in Arkansas to new levels.

“Vaccinate the Natural State,” an initiative led by Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield (ABCBS), kicked off its campaign less than two weeks ago with motivation to get as many COVID-19 vaccines in as many Arkansans as possible.

“The purpose is to encourage all Arkansans to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available to them,” said Curtis Barnett, CEO of ABCBS. “As vaccine development was beginning to accelerate last fall, we were already watching the data around expected vaccine hesitancy rates. The polls came out at the end of the year, where 56% of American adults were saying they would get the vaccine when it’s available to them. Those numbers dropped off pretty significantly by racial and ethnic groups, especially those that have traditionally been underserved.”

Vaccine hesitancy is real, said Dr. Creshelle Nash, ABCBS Medical Director for Public Programs.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in late February found that 55% of adults say they now want a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible or have already received their first dose. That’s up eight points from January and 21 points from December. Another recent survey conducted by Axios/Ipsos showed 57% had already received the vaccine or will get it as soon as possible. Only 43% said they would get a vaccination ASAP in January, according to the same pollster.

Both polls, as well as other public surveys, shows that a hardline “get it only if required” or “definitely not” has remained consistent in the low 20% range.

Nash said overcoming vaccine hesitancy has been a focus of her life and career.

“When I think about vaccine hesitancy, underserved communities and communities of color have legitimate concerns about healthcare and access to the vaccine. We want to make sure that the best in medical science is available to those most in need. We do know that minorities and people of color and in rural areas have increased exposure and increased devastation from this disease, so what we need to do is we need to encourage people and give them the correct information, and education is a major component across all of our different partners, and for people to weigh the risks and the benefits for themselves,” she said.

The “Vaccinate the Natural State” coalition includes the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, the Arkansas Minority Health Commission, the Northwest Arkansas Council, UAMS and Walmart.

Barnett said employers are key to overcoming vaccine hesitancy. Polling shows that employers are reliable sources of health information. The initiative taps into that trustworthiness.

“As we began looking at this, we knew that there had to be a movement in our state among all the key stakeholders, coming together to really hit the vaccine rates that are going to be needed to eliminate the virus from our daily lives. We also knew that the employers were going to be a critical part of that,” he said.

There are several ways for Arkansans to participate in the vaccine process. In addition to employer-sponsored programs, Healthy.Arkansas.gov has resources for local distribution. There is also a toll-free number, 1-800-803-7847, to find local options.

You can watch Barnett’s and Nash’s full interview in the video below.

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