Kansans can play an important role in vaccine acceptance

August 9, 2021 3:33 am

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services employee holds a COVID-19 vaccine record card Nov. 13, 2020, at Operation Warp Speed headquarters in Washington, D.C. (EJ Hersom/U.S. Department of Defense)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. David Jordan is the president of the Hutchinson-based United Methodist Health Ministry Fund.

Earlier this year, hope abounded that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic was in sight. The development and availability of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines signaled that a return to normal — hugging loved ones, kids safely returning to child care and school, the end of Zooming all day every day, enjoying summer cookouts, and returning to church — was finally just around the corner.

To enable this return to normal we each had one task: Get vaccinated.

Unfortunately, the vaccines were not embraced by many Kansans. Despite a safe, effective and free vaccine being reserved for each Kansan over the age of 12, just 54.1% of eligible Kansans have been fully vaccinated.

Now, as the COVID-19 delta variant spreads, many of our communities are unprepared and unprotected. Children under 12 (who are currently ineligible to be vaccinated) are at the greatest risk. Data shared by Brown University’s Ashish K. Jha, M.D., M.P.H., highlighted hospitalization data that shows children under 12 in Louisiana and Florida, both states with low vaccination rates, were 10 and 12 times more likely to be hospitalized than children under 12 in Massachusetts, which has a high vaccination rate — underscoring that the best way to protect unvaccinated children is to ensure adults in their community are vaccinated.

Instead, communities with low vaccination rates, like the majority of those in Kansas, are seeing COVID-19 cases spread quickly.

In late June, just 96 cases of COVID-19 were being reported daily in Kansas. For the seven-day period ending July 31, the number of new COVID-19 cases had swelled to 819 per day. Nearly all of the cases in Kansas are of the highly contagious Delta variant.

A return to mask mandates is already underway and is being implemented in some schools. Employers are considering vaccine mandates, and our hope to return to “normal” is fading away.

While COVID-19 is trending in the wrong direction in Kansas and our hospitals are once again nearing capacity, we still have the ability to overcome this pandemic if we increase our vaccination rates.

We can all do our part by having open and empathetic conversations with family, friends and neighbors about the vaccine and encouraging them to make a plan to get vaccinated. To help faith leaders do just that, the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund created a Faith in Vaccines toolkit and sermon series to help faith leaders support positive conversations about vaccinations.

The guide, informed by conversations with lay faith leaders across Kansas and research conducted by the de Beaumont Foundation and Missouri Foundation for Health, also can help prepare you to have meaningful, impactful and highly personal conversations about the benefits of vaccinations.

As our unvaccinated loved ones consider vaccination, it is important to recognize vaccination is a personal decision. When talking with them about the vaccine, it is important not to discount or dismiss the fears they may have about the COVID-19 vaccines. Neglecting people’s fears or trying to shame them into action will just drive them further into vaccine hesitancy or rejection. Acknowledging those feelings and concerns instead can make space for safe and honest conversations.

Instead, focus on meeting your neighbors where they are and remind them that:

  • The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your family from the virus.
  • Getting vaccinated is not just about you; it is about your whole community.
  • The vaccines are a key step in getting back to normal, so that we can safely get together again like we used to.
  • A safe, effective and free vaccine has been reserved for you.

During these conversations, it’s normal for questions to arise. Faith leaders and medical professionals are trusted sources who can provide helpful information. Enlist them to help share the message about the importance of vaccines. We did.

Bob Kraft, of Salina Family Medicine, reminds Kansans the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, tested and free and that vaccines are the best way to get back to normal. 

Father Robert Schremmer reminds us that being vaccinated is an act of charity — making our love of neighbors real — and that “vaccines protect life: ours and others.”

To reduce the spread of the delta variant and to help us get back to life, we all have a part to play. Commit to having open, honest conversations with loved ones about the importance and safety of vaccines. Help address their concerns and encourage them to make a plan to get vaccinated Your time and these conversations can save lives. Together, we can increase vaccination rates and enjoy a return to normal.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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David Jordan
David Jordan

David Jordan is the President of the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, a health philanthropy focused on improving the health of Kansans. Before joining the Health Fund, David served as the executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, a coalition of more than 100 organizations working to improve access to health care in Kansas. He has more than 20 years of experience leading state and national efforts focused on changing policy to improve health and reduce disparities.