Efforts in Richland County to increase the percentage of minority and rural residents planning to get vaccinated for COVID-19 are getting a shot in the arm.
This week, County officials joined the City of Columbia, other local representatives and members of the health care sector to discuss the importance of residents – especially people of color and those in rural communities – getting the facts about COVID-19 vaccination.
Members of the collaborative acknowledged they must overcome long-held mistrust in the health industry. Moreover, the group recognized that the level of access to the vaccine could impact whether people get vaccinated.
Richland County Councilmembers Derrek Pugh, District 2, and Gretchen Barron, District 7, and County Administrator Leonardo Brown were among the County officials who attended the virtual meeting hosted by Prisma Health. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and school district officials also took part.
Several attendees emphasized that the historical maltreatment of communities of color, along with current incidents of racism in the health care industry, are likely behind some people’s distrust of the vaccine. Additionally, some attendees emphasized that outreach efforts must target people in outlying areas of the County to ensure they have easy access to vaccination sites.
Those two factors – trust and access – are the main goals that local policymakers, health care officials, community advocates, religious leaders and other influencers should focus on in order to successfully administer the vaccine in Richland County, the attendees said.
“It’s so important for organizations like Richland County, through its elected officials and public officials, to help get the message out about the COVID-19 vaccine,” Brown said.
In line with national efforts, the Prisma Health-led discussion emphasized the importance of providing communities the information needed to understand the vaccine, make informed decisions and deliver messages through trusted messengers – such as elected officials, religious leaders and community advocates.
“Using Richland County Government and its public officials to help get that message out is a crucial component to making sure that citizens know when they are available to receive the vaccine, how they can go about getting the vaccine and what methods they need to use in order to register for the vaccine,” Brown said.
Informing residents about the vaccine follows other efforts Richland County officials have made to support the community during the COVID-19 health crisis. To help mitigate the impact of the economic downturn caused by the virus, Richland County Council last year approved $1.5 million in financial support for small businesses and nonprofits.
Council also enacted a mask ordinance to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Councilmembers held several mask giveaway events in which tens of thousands of single-use masks were distributed to residents throughout the County.
Now that a vaccine is available, Richland County officials are hoping residents will join them by rolling up their sleeves.
Brown’s full video statement on the virtual meeting is available on the County’s YouTube page: https://youtu.be/XoucNrzJLOw.