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Missouri vaccine outreach aims to be non-confrontational

July 19, 2021 GMT
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Kelsey Conner, a public health information specialist, speaks with Marjorie Strohl, 85, about a vaccination event on Thursday, July 15, 2021 in Springfield, Mo. Conner canvassed the north Springfield neighborhood for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department in the hopes of boosting COVID-19 vaccinations. With the delta variant causing a surge of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in southwestern Missouri, health officials have taken to going door-to-door in an effort to encourage vaccinations. (Jill Toyoshiba /The Kansas City Star via AP)
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Kelsey Conner, a public health information specialist, speaks with Marjorie Strohl, 85, about a vaccination event on Thursday, July 15, 2021 in Springfield, Mo. Conner canvassed the north Springfield neighborhood for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department in the hopes of boosting COVID-19 vaccinations. With the delta variant causing a surge of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in southwestern Missouri, health officials have taken to going door-to-door in an effort to encourage vaccinations. (Jill Toyoshiba /The Kansas City Star via AP)

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — With the delta variant causing a surge of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in southwestern Missouri, health officials have taken to going door-to-door in an effort to encourage vaccinations.

The Kansas City Star recently followed along as health officials knocked on doors in Springfield, handing out brochures. The effort was non-confrontational and the officials always took “no” for an answer, the newspaper reported, despite concerns raised by Gov. Mike Parson and other Republican leaders that the outreach would be heavy-handed.

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Southwestern Missouri has seen an alarming rise in illnesses caused by COVID-19 in recent weeks. There was a tinge of good news Monday: The number of people hospitalized dipped slightly both in southwestern Missouri and across the state, according to Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services data.

After several days of more than 1,000 newly confirmed cases, the state reported 826 on Monday, bringing the total for the pandemic to 545,551. No new deaths were reported, keeping the total at 9,474.

Southwestern Missouri lags well behind the national average for vaccinations, but persuading the unvaccinated to get a shot is proving difficult.

In Springfield, Annaliese Schroeder, a community health advocate, knocked on a door and briefly talked about an upcoming clinic. She offered a door tag with information about the virus, and asked a few question: Do you want information about the clinic? Do you know someone who does? Do you have any questions about other clinics, or the vaccines?

Josh Gollaher and Nikki Schaub turned down a flyer as they walked home to their apartment complex. Both told a reporter they were adamantly against taking a vaccine.

“I just don’t want to,” Schaub, 42, said. “I’d rather wear a mask.”

Gollaher, 29, said he doesn’t trust the studies about the spread of the virus.

“Their studies could be wrong,” he said. “It’ll blow over.”

Schroeder and Kelsey Connor, a public health information specialist, said those sort of encounters are rare. She and Conner are careful not to push back when residents turn them down. They never ask the resident’s vaccination status, they said.

“If somebody is already a little uncertain, being aggressive … is not something that’s going to make them feel more comfortable to come in and get vaccinated,” Schroeder said. “It’s a lot about creating that community bond … so when they see us they don’t feel unsafe or threatened.”

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Greene County and Springfield have held nearly 10 door-to-door canvasses so far. Officials are using surveys at clinics to track the impact, but data isn’t yet available.

Health officials know the door-to-door outreach isn’t an option in some places. In low-vaccinated Shannon County 135 miles (217 kilometers) east of Springfield, anti-vaccine sentiment is so high a clinic has offered private rooms for patients who don’t want to be seen getting a shot.

“We’re not going to go knocking on doors,” said Kandra Counts, Shannon County’s health administrator. “We’ve made that very clear to the public.”