Stacy Woodland is the CEO of the Tri-County Area YWCA in Pottstown. She told the panel that trust in the health care system is tied to access.
“Families and people that I know that have trusted relationships with health care professionals are much more likely to say, ‘Yes, I’m going to get the vaccine.’ When there are families who I know that use the emergency room and don’t have trusted relationships with health care professionals, they are less likely to trust that the health care system is going to take good care of them,” Woodland said.
For health care providers to effectively get their point across to communities that do not trust the vaccine, Woodland said, there needs to be a level of cultural understanding.
“I think it’s critical to have cultural competency when you’re talking to people that are of a different culture than you, so that you’re able to address and assess fears, both stated and unspoken,” Woodland said.
Jimenez-Arevalo said bridging the language barrier requires more than a simple translation.
“The translation has to make sense. It has to talk to people in the language that they understand so it’s not only a translation in Spanish, it’s how do you, culturally, get to people to understand the message,” Jimenez-Arevalo said.
The messenger might be the key, according to Corson. Bringing in health care experts that are also members of the community could go a long way, he said.
He also addressed what he believes were health care inequities during the initial stages of the pandemic.
“And when COVID rolled out, even though it was affecting the Black and brown communities so much, it seems like the test centers were set up in predominantly white areas and conversations were limited or did not exist to get them into the Black and brown areas, for example, here in Montco. The first test center was set up in Blue Bell. It wasn’t set up in Pottstown, or I don’t believe it was set up in deep in the heart of Norristown, so Black and brown people were expected to travel all the way to Blue Bell,” Corson said.
At the conclusion of the town hall, the panelists were in agreement that defeating COVID-19 largely depends on arming people with correct information.
“I think one point that maybe hasn’t been made tonight is to just urge people to not believe what you’re reading on different social media. There is so much incredibly wrong information on social media platforms. So I really urge you to talk to your health care provider that you trust if you have one,” said Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the county commissioners.
Though Montgomery County is still in Phase 1A of its vaccine rollout, it expects to be holding Phase 1B vaccinations by February. Arkoosh said that the county is at the mercy of its supplier — and right now the vaccine stockpile is low.
That means a potentially long wait for the general population to receive vaccines.
“So we’re hoping that we’ll get more doses soon, and that maybe we’ll have another vaccine or two to put into the mix to get some more doses out there. But for the general, like healthy, younger population, we’re looking at late spring, maybe even early summer at the rate that we’re going for,” Arkoosh said.
In the meantime, health officials want to remind people that the vaccine is just one tool in the toolbox.
“So I know everyone is tired of hearing, `Wear your mask, wash your hands, keep distance,’ but they are still really key for keeping people safe,” said Meghan Smith, planning and promotion coordinator for the health department in neighboring Chester County.
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