FAIRMONT, W.Va. (WV News) — Marion County Health Department officials are hoping to build what they call “vaccine confidence” with residents hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and they are continuing to urge community members to use caution when attending crowded events.
Since June 10, the local health department has reported 126 new cases of the virus. Marion County Health Department Administrator Lloyd White said while this alone is troubling, it likely pales in comparison to the true number of cases in the county.
“We’re averaging upwards of 25 to 30 cases a day, and that’s what’s reported to us,” White said. “Our concern is that we have cases out there that are not being reported even though they’re positive with an at-home test kit. That’s a concern.”
Marion County Health Department Director of Nursing Meagan Payne said this has made it all the harder for health officials everywhere to fight the pandemic.
“You can’t fight what you don’t see,” Payne said. “All you can do is be prepared for battle.”
Not only do White and Payne want people to get officially tested if they’re feeling symptomatic or receive a positive result on an at-home test, but they are hoping to build a level of trust with the community over the COVID-19 vaccine, which many are still hesitant about even a year and a half after it became available to the public.
“One of the things that’s been a challenge for us from day one is that people don’t have confidence in the vaccine,” White said. “They have a lot of concerns as to why they aren’t getting it, and the challenge is using the proper terminology that would increase patient confidence that would cause them to get the vaccine of they haven’t already received it. …
“It’s going to be challenging to change folks’ minds. We’ve been in this so long now that they’re pretty much set in their ways. The challenge becomes how we convince folks that the vaccine is safe and effective. The real value in vaccines is that they save lives. … We may not be able to change folks’ minds. All we can do is illustrate the value and importance of getting the vaccine.”
Payne said those with concerns over the vaccine shouldn’t hesitate to speak with family, friends or neighbors who have had the vaccine to learn the truth about it, and even encouraged those who are wary of the shot to call the health department itself to speak with a medical professional about the issue.
“One of the biggest things for folks is when they know someone who has gotten the vaccine and they’ve heard their story,” Payne said. “Speak to your family and friends and neighbors and community, and reach out and call us to have a conversation.”
White said another issue with the pandemic this summer is a resurgence of congregate settings and events that seem to put little emphasis on COVID-19 safety.
“Our concern is that we’re still having events with congregate settings,” White said. “Even though the event is outside, which will decrease the risk some, we still have a lot of people in close quarters. And with no social distancing, we increase the risk of transmission. Given the fact that we’re averaging a higher number of cases a week than we would like plus cases that we don’t know about, I have big concerns about these congregate settings where folks aren’t social distancing or wearing masks. …
“At this point in time, I would be hesitant to tell people not to have events, but what I would tell them is they can take control measures to make sure the event is as safe as possible given the fact that we’re still in a pandemic. We’re in a time of COVID fatigue. I think we’ve had some successes, and those successes have maybe led to people in general thinking we’re out of the woods. We’re clearly still, yet, in the pandemic.”
Payne said that at this point in the pandemic, it’s everybody’s personal and social responsibility to protect themselves and others when going out to these crowded events, and she hopes that those who do are also taking the proper precautions.
“We can’t control what other folks do,” Payne said. “We can only control what we can control, so we should do what we need to do. If we know that vaccines are one of those measures — not the be all end all, but one of the measures to prevent it — then that’s going to reduce hospital admissions and being on a ventilator.”
Fairmont News Editor John Mark Shaver can be reached at 304-844-8485 or email@example.com.