One of the most effective methods of increasing the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations may not come from telling patients about the benefits of the shot, but rather by listening to concerns of those who don't want to take it.
Faculty members in the Kansas City University (KCU) Doctorate of Clinical Psychology (PsyD) program have conducted four "Listening Tours" to help identify the reasons some people may be hesitant to receive the vaccine, especially in underserved communities and communities of color.
"Unfortunately, science and medicine have a less than stellar history with communities of color," said Sarah Getch, PhD, psychology program director. "Due to mistreatment and medical experimentation, many people do not trust the medical community. Additionally, politics and a wave of misinformation have created additional reasons for many groups to distrust the vaccine."
According to the demographic information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among those who have recently received the vaccine whose race/ethnicity is known, nearly two thirds were White, nine percent were Hispanic, eight percent were Black and five percent were Asian. Native American Indian, Native Alaskans and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders made up the rest.
Getch and her colleague, Dr. Esperanza Anaya, have partnered with KCU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), to learn about vaccine concerns and administer vaccines to underrepresented members of the Kansas City area community. They worked with clinical staff initially, as they are trusted community members who can have a positive impact on the broad, diverse patient population the Center servers — and beyond.
Facilitators from KCU's PsyD program are holding in-person sessions in which they ask five open-ended questions focusing on vaccine hesitations, what the organization (Sam Rodgers) can do about it, what community members know about scientific research on how the vaccines were created, where patients feel safe receiving a vaccine, and what kind of motivation they have for getting it. No identifying information is collected. Themes related to participant responses include wanting to understand more about how the vaccine works, as well as a desire to speak with individuals who have already been vaccinated. There are also concerns related to conspiracies and myths circulating through social media.
"We found that a lot of people have a healthy sense of skepticism," said Getch. "Most people indicate they are open to the idea of getting the vaccine; many want to watch and see what happens first while others want to be assured there are no dangerous or longstanding side effects."
Getch noted that PsyD students have a vested interest in supporting the community and especially communities of color. "All of us at KCU are excited to see our PsyD students build relationships throughout the Kansas City area by listening to the concerns some have about the vaccine, meeting folks where they are, and leaning on influential community members to share accurate information."
Answers and results of the surveys are transcribed, analyzed and reported to participants and Sam Rodgers' administration so that concerns can be addressed through targeted educational sessions and materials as well as open question-and-answer sessions with an expert.
As questions are addressed, community members may decide to receive the vaccine at one of the many clinics throughout the region where KCU medical students are volunteering as vaccinators.
"We know that people who live in underserved areas have been disproportionally impacted by COVID-19, particularly people of color," said Darrin D'Agostino, DO, executive dean and vice provost for Health Affairs at KCU. "We want to listen to community concerns and provide accurate information. Ultimately, we hope people will choose to become vaccinated. We stand ready to help."
In order to reach a broader segment of the community, KCU has received a $150,000 grant from the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation that will help provide support for scheduling and manage the training of PsyD students to conduct listening tours and perform further research.
For more information, email Dr. Sarah Getch.