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Overcoming Politics In New Phase With Childhood COVID Vaccinations

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Tuesday, November 9, 2021   

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Health officials are optimistic broad immunity against COVID-19 can be achieved for children, because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended a pediatric version of Pfizer's vaccine for kids 5-11 years old.

COVID infection rates are largely falling in the U.S., but that has been a challenge due to vaccine hesitancy.

Tiffani Helberg, vice president for communications at Community Health of South Florida, said reaching out in hard-to-reach communities and trying to gain trust is something they have been doing for more than 50 years, but things have been different with COVID.

"Of course, this is a greater challenge now as politics has been injected into this medical fight over the pandemic," Helberg observed. "But nonetheless, we have launched a full-court press to try and educate the community from the beginning."

Florida's Republican leaders have been fighting against vaccine and mask mandates. Gov. Ron DeSantis has called a special legislative session to block businesses or school districts from implementing either. Some studies link a rise in vaccine hesitancy to politicized debates around the pandemic.

Dr. Ron Yee, chief medical officer for the National Association of Community Health Centers, said it is why community health centers are so important. They have been working to build trusted relationships about COVID with people in their areas, so they can get them accurate information, and encourage them to get vaccinated.

"Not everybody is going to step up and get a vaccine right away," Yee pointed out. "There'll be some, like we saw with the adults, that immediately come in, there's going to be some that come in later, there's going to be some on the fence. And there's going to be some that start with, 'No, I don't want to get this.'"

Helberg noted since the inception, they have been tackling organic vaccine hesitancy and the ones revved up by politics through a robust community outreach plan to all of their South Florida locations.

"We also are very culturally sensitive," Helberg asserted. "All of our employees are trained in cultural sensitivity. So we understand that different cultures come with different beliefs about the vaccine, so we try and approach it different ways depending on who we're talking to."

Community Health Centers have been caring for those living in poverty and other hard-to-reach populations since the mid-1960s. To date, the centers have completed nearly 16 million vaccines.

Disclosure: National Association of Community Health Centers contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, and Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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