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As Delta Variant Wreaks Havoc, Springfield Officials Suggest Listening, Empathy

City of Springfield

Jon Mooney, assistant director with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, took to the podium Tuesday at a press conference at Fire Station Number 5 in Springfield.

“To those who have already been vaccinated, you can be a health care champion,” he said.

The Delta variant of the coronavirus, he said, is now believed to make up around 95% of the cases in Greene County. It’s known to spread more easily.  With case counts hurling skyward and at least one Springfield hospital needing to divert Covid patients elsewhere, all attention has turned to the one solution health officials believe could stem the tide:  more widespread vaccinations.

Greene County’s rate of fully vaccinated people ages 12 and up hovers just below 40 percent, according to the health department’s Covid dashboard. In the surrounding rural counties that feed into the metro hospitals, the vaccination rate is significantly lower.

Mooney had a specific message for people as we approach the July 4 holiday this weekend.

"To those who have already been vaccinated, you can be a health care champion by motivating your friends and families to be vaccinated. Talk to them about their concerns and help them make sure that they're receiving information from reliable sources, such as a doctor," Mooney said.

"I'll be frank:  individuals who continue to not get vaccinated are at extremely high risk for contracting the Delta variant sometime soon," Mooney said.

Chief Medical Officer:  'Be willing to listen and understand' vaccine hesitation

Dr. Nancy Yoon is the chief medical officer at the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. She says there’s a been a lot of harsh judgment surrounding the Covid vaccine.

"But when we look at the issue of vaccine hesitancy, we really need to be willing to listen and understand people's individual concerns. So it's not that everyone has the same concerns or misconceptions," Yoon said.

"So I think it's very important to just listen to what questions people have and to do it in an empathetic way, realizing people just may need more information about the vaccines. They may be questioning or wondering about the speed with which the vaccines were approved," Yoon said.

"I think it's just important to have that dialogue and, not being judgmental, but realizing that people have valid questions and concerns. And when we hear those, we try to address them from a place of science and data and explaining these vaccines are highly effective. They're almost 100 percent effective in preventing death and severe disease and also highly effective in just preventing infection from Covid," Yoon said.

Many people in the Ozarks are getting their information from a variety of places, Yoon said. 

"Unfortunately, sometimes there can be rumors or misinformation or even conspiracy theories from some of these sources. So I think it's important to, when you're getting your vaccine information, make sure where you're going is a trusted source and that it's reliable," Yoon said.

Yoon said some people may not feel comfortable coming into a health care setting to get the vaccine.  Others don’t have access, or they might not be able to take time off work.

"We've worked with a lot of different actual businesses and employers in the community. So we're willing to go on site during the workday and vaccinate all of their employees," Yoon said.

Some employers have offered incentives for their workers to get the Covid-19 vaccine, like gift cards or paid time off.  The health department is also partnering with community events like Arts Fest and Springfield Cardinals' to host vaccine opportunities, Yoon said. 

Amanda Hedgepeth is vice president of hospital operations at CoxHealth in Springfield. Initially, people flocked to the CoxHealth mass vaccine clinics, she said. Thousands of vaccinations occurred each day, in Springfield and on its other campuses.  But then, the volume of people coming to mass vaccination sites dried up.  

"Instead of signing up 2000 people a day, we were signing up 150 or 200 a day," Hedgepeth said.

At that point, she said, CoxHealth leaders paused to take a look at all relevant factors before pivoting to send the vaccine out into the more rural areas of the region. One factor was accessibility, since some patients drive an hour to receive care at CoxHealth. 

"And so we know that we don't want anything, including travel and time, to be a deterrence and receiving the vaccine. We also had another reason for doing that, which is we know the relationship between a patient and a physician is a very special one, and we know that patients trust physicians that have devoted their life and their career to helping patients. And so many times it allows the physician to have those one on one discussions with patients," Hedgepeth said.

There is at least one data point Americans across political, geographical and socioeconomic lines appear to agree on:  they trust their doctors, nurses and health care providers.  According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, eight in 10 Americans say their health care providers will be a deciding factor in how they approach immunization against the virus.