Though recent studies by Pfizer
show the COVID-19 vaccination is safe and effective for ages 5 to 11, Michigan has yet to reach Governor Whitmer’s goal of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders
aged 16 and up. According to Brian Hartl, epidemiology supervisor at Kent County Health Department
(KCHD), the overarching matter comes down to misinformation.
“One of the challenges of COVID-19 is that it can be transmitted from an infected individual to another person prior to the infected individual showing any signs or symptoms of infection,” Hartl says. “Vaccination reduces the risk of individuals becoming infected with the virus and therefore, reduces the potential of spreading the infection to others. The more people who are vaccinated in our community, the more equipped we are to limit transmission and prevent illness that could lead to hospitalization and death among those who are most vulnerable to severe complications of infection.”
But then, Ron Jimmerson, president and co-founder of Seeds of Promise
poses the question, why are some communities more hesitant than others? He compared the ZIP code of 49507 with 49506, which includes the 95% vaccination rates of East Grand Rapids students. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
, individuals in neighborhoods of the 49507 ZIP code are three times more likely to be hesitant than individuals in the 49506 ZIP code.
Jimmerson says, this difference is not only due to the spread of misinformation and mistrust, some stemming from the historically ethical violations of the Tuskegee syphilis study
, but there is also a component of lack of access. This is why Seeds of Promise teamed up with Kent County Health Department’s mobile clinic to offer a free, walk-in clinic
every Thursday from 1-3 p.m through at least the end of October. Jimmerson hopes to find accommodation during the winter months to continue this work.
“People, especially people of color, are hurting,” Jimmerson says. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
, communities of color in the United States have seen approximately double the COVID-19 death rates compared to white individuals. “Our fear is that if our community doesn’t get vaccinated soon, the winter months will have an even worse effect on our neighborhoods. We don’t want to see any more people get hurt,” he says.
While the early days of the mobile clinic proved to be sparse, Jimmerson has seen almost three times the rate of attendees after introducing a new pilot program that offers the first 20 residents each week with a $50.00 gift card to Great Giant Supermarket.
To spread accurate information throughout the community, Jimmerson also plans on creating a new “Shots for Love” canvassing initiative. “We’ll be going door to door and making phone calls to residences, explaining the importance of getting the vaccine, but in a way that will speak to the people’s hearts,” he says.
“Since not everyone reads or watches the news, we want to focus on the cultural figures out there trying to stabilize that misinformation by adding statements from celebrities like Chris Rock on the flyers in hopes of really convincing people the importance of this vaccine.”
As a public health professional, Hartl must face the data of COVID-19 each day, which in itself takes an emotional toll.
“The hard part is that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and we are still losing 2,000 American lives each day to this infection,” he says. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that we would see anything worse than the 1918 pandemic during my public health career. There are so many people in our community and across the world who would still be with us had it not been for COVID-19 infection. We need to remember every vaccine given to someone has the potential to save that person’s life or someone else’s around them.”
More information about COVID-19 and the vaccination clinics across West Michigan can be found on Vaccinate West Michigan
and Kent County Health Department’s Data Dashboard
Southeast Strong is a series funded by the City of Grand Rapids that is focused on the multi-faceted neighborhoods of the city's southeast corridor. Through the exploration of the neighborhoods' entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and community members, the series' local storytellers will highlight the resiliency of resident voices and projects, especially during COVID-19 recovery.
Superstore is located in Madison Square
To improve vaccination rates, Seeds of Promise and Kent County Health Department teamed up to offer $50 gift cards to the first 20 participants who choose to get the COVID-19 vaccine.