By Claire Aiello
Vice President, Marketing and Communications
As more COVID vaccines are approved and produced, it’s important that we all roll up our sleeve when it’s our turn.
Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine is now approved for use, and the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines continue to be distributed in our local community, through Huntsville Hospital and the Alabama Department of Public Health. Thousands are on local waiting lists to get the vaccine when there is enough supply, but others may not know how to sign up, or may be skeptical to do so.
“We were seeing early on that people of color were having mixed emotions about taking the vaccine,” said Tracy Doughty, Huntsville Hospital’s Senior Vice President of Operations. “There’s a long history of inequities in healthcare, in people of color receiving health care, and we didn’t want this to be one of those times. We wanted to create some strategic messaging so that when their age or profession was called, they could work through their hesitancy and get the vaccine.”
Huntsville Hospital published a series of social media videos in February featuring African American doctors, nurses, and elected leaders encouraging people to trust the science and take the vaccine.
The hospital has also been working with Speakin’ Out News, the Huntsville Urban Network, sororities, fraternities, and other groups to amplify the message further.
They have also worked with predominantly Black churches, visiting with a supply of vaccine, having the churches bring in childcare workers, clergy, and older members who may not have computer or smartphone access to sign up for the waiting list. These include Union Hill Primitive Baptist, Union Chapel Missionary Baptist, and Progressive Union Missionary Baptist.
Huntsville Hospital is also working with Huntsville Housing Authority to visit The Todd and Johnson Towers.
“We’ll go to them, because many of those residents can’t get to us,” added Doughty. “We’re trying to tackle this on both ends. Whether it’s through vaccine hesitancy or access to get here – we want to address it and help solve this.”
Many of our elected leaders are sharing vaccine information with residents, including Madison County Commissioner Violet Edwards.
“My office has built our campaign around three central ideas: Education, Information, and Relief. Our goal is to help empower each individual to make science-based decisions about their health and the health of their loved ones,” said Edwards.
Edwards’ initiatives included partnering with the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency to provide 500 reusable masks to seniors and families with children, partnering with Huntsville Hospital and Thrive Alabama to provide free COVID-19 testing at the Bob Harrison Senior Wellness and Advocacy Center, and hosting virtual panels with medical professionals to separate fact versus fiction when it comes to taking the vaccine. This included conversations in English and Spanish.
“We are engaging at every level from school-aged to seniors. This is my top priority because I fundamentally believe that together we can combat this virus,” said Edwards. “We will continue to roll out efforts, tackling everything from rental assistance to education. We are not just engaging our community and district but the whole of Madison County. We have got a lot done and we have no plans of slowing down now.”
City Councilman John Meredith is sharing also sharing word with residents of Huntsville’s District 5.
“COVID is the scourge of our lifetime. It is quickly becoming the number one cause of death in America, and probably within the communities of color as well,” Meredith said in the video he recorded for Huntsville Hospital. “When your time comes to take the COVID vaccine, please sign up. The sooner you get your vaccine, the sooner we can get out of these masks and go back to life as normal.”
United Way of Madison County is helping those who may need a ride to a vaccine appointment once scheduled with a healthcare provider. Through Ride United, you can call 211 to schedule a ride. Ride United is made possible through a partnership with Lyft, and is supported financially by Toyota Motor North America, General Motors, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, and Progress Bank.
“This initiative will truly make a difference in our neighbors’ health and the health of our community,” said Cathy Miller, UWMC Community Impact Director. “It’s a tangible example of what United Way has done for 78 years: identify needs and bring solutions to the table – redefining what’s possible.”
Ride United is an established transportation solution in our community, providing more than 1,500 rides in the past year for people needing rides to employment and pre-employment opportunities as well as a limited number of rides to medical appointments.
This article appears in the April 2021 issue of Initiatives magazine, a publication of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.