Southwest Michigan organizations collaborate to increase vaccination rates, fight misinformation

Posted at 3:54 PM, Jul 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-27 15:54:41-04

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — The Berrien County Health Department, United Way of Southwest Michigan and Van Buren-Cass District Health Department are partnering up to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates.

They’ll be mobilizing individuals and nonprofits to combat misinformation and reach those who remain hesitant to the vaccine throughout Southwest Michigan, according to a news release Tuesday.

“Vaccine champions” will educate communities on the importance of the vaccine to increase uptake in individuals who are vaccine hesitant and vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission and infection.

Training will be provided to the “champions” on effective outreach tactics, assistance in identifying areas with lower vaccine confidence and monthly stipends or mini-grant awards to increase their capacity.

Participants will be asked to open conversations about the COVID-19 vaccines through activities like door-to-soor outreach, sharing vaccine information within circles of influence, in-person and/or on social media, drive friends to vaccination appointments or help coordinate and/or host a vaccine clinic.

This new grassroots engagement strategy will include partnerships and “trusted messengers” to allow accurate, easy-to-understand health information to permeate throughout communities, organizers said.

Vaccination coverage rates vary by county in Southwest Michigan.

Currently, in Berrien County, 53.7% of the population over the age of 12 has received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Van Buren County has 56.5% of the eligible population with at least one dose and Cass County’s rate stands at 37.7%.

“While we’ve made incredible progress in decreasing COVID-19 transmission in our area, due to the protective effects of the vaccines, we know we must continue our efforts to build greater community-wide protection against the virus,” said Courtney Davis, acting health officer at the Berrien County Health Department. “This initiative will help us increase vaccination rates as well as slow the spread of health misinformation that causes confusion, harms people’s health and undermines public health efforts.”

Individuals and nonprofits interested in participating as a “vaccine champion” can complete an online application here or call 269-932-3566.

Applications are being accepted until Aug. 9 and champions identified will be asked to attend a training offered in mid-August.