MCHD recognized for combatting COVID & flu vaccine hesitancy and inequity
Apr. 13, 2023
Contact: MaryWade Burnside
Public Information Officer
Monongalia County Health Department
Morgantown, WV 26505
(304) 598-5152 | www.monchd.org
For Immediate Release
MCHD recognized for combatting COVID/flu vaccine hesitancy & inequity
MORGANTOWN, WV (April 13, 2023) — When COVID-19 vaccines were first released in mid-December 2020, many individuals clamored to be immunized or expressed frustration as they waited for their age group’s turn.
Eventually, the lines slowed down and it was time to address those who expressed vaccine hesitancy or whose circumstances made immunization difficult.
Monongalia County Health Department received grants from the Washington-based, non-profit NACCHO — which stands for the National Association of County and City Health Officials — to combat both vaccine hesitancy and inequity. NACCHO represents the nation’s nearly 3,000 local governmental health departments.
During the same time period, MCHD Threat Preparedness staffers established partnerships with a variety of organizations and churches in Monongalia County in order to reach the unvaccinated.
In March, MCHD Threat Prep welcomed a site visit from two NACCHO staff members who wanted to provide the program an opportunity to showcase the work they have been doing with those community partners.
“Monongalia County Health Department was one of the first places that we identified when we started making plans for site visits,” said Robin Mowson, NACCHO senior program analyst. “Its partnerships have been strong during the pandemic, through the Monongalia County Quick Response Team (QRT), through West Virginia University and the hospital systems.
“These partnerships benefitted the COVID response and we wanted to understand what the magic was and how the partnerships were maintained so well.”
Mowson and her colleague, Tori Decea, a program analyst, spent a day and a half in Morgantown, sitting in on the weekly Monongalia County QRT meeting, touring health department facilities and talking to Threat Prep staffers on Friday, March 17.
Then on Saturday, March 18, the two attended a vaccine and naloxone administration clinic with Threat Preparedness staff at Mylan Park. They also had the opportunity to talk to some area residents about their interactions with the health department.
“We were very interested in outreach coordination and implementation,” Mowson said.
That included seeing “how the health department has been able to build trust in the community through offering a variety of in-demand services in addition to immunizations; leveraging partnerships and coalition-building skills to strengthen the response during the pandemic and how the team has been using an iterative approach to incorporate changing community input into their strategies.”
NACCHO’s Immunization team has provided funding since 2022 to Monongalia County Health Department via two grants. The first is COVID Vaccines Information Equity and Demand (COVIED), for a total of $100,000; the second, Partnering for Vaccine Equity (P4VE), provided $175,000. Both grants run through July 2023.
Mowson and Decea work with the COVIED grant team, which is a sister project of the P4VE grant. COVIED focuses on equipping local health departments to build COVID-19 vaccine confidence and address misinformation and hesitancy to communities. P4VE focuses on supporting health departments in identifying and addressing inequities in adult influenza and COVID-19 vaccine coverage among racial and ethnic populations.
“We were very pleased with the interaction from NACCHO,” said Jamie Moore, manager of the MCHD Threat Preparedness program. “We learned a lot from them and we are looking forward to continuing the relationship with them to work on the problems of our world that focus on hesitancy, equity and disparity. These are some of the social determinants of our health that lead to people living healthier and more productive lives.”
Mowson and Decea’s visit stemmed from the connection built from the grant funds awarded to MCHD through biweekly meetings, however: “The site visit was not mandated,” Mowson said. “Rather, it is a practice from before the pandemic that we are excited to start implementing again. NACCHO strives to support and advance, rather than simply fund, immunization sites.”
After COVID was declared a pandemic in March 2020, MCHD began setting up community COVID testing sites two months later in May in various locations around the county before partnering with West Virginia University to conduct testing at the WVU Rec Center on a regular basis.
Then, in January 2021, MCHD teamed up with WVU Medicine, Mon Health Medical Center, Clay-Battelle Community Health Center and MECCA 911 to create a large, efficient and well-coordinated COVID vaccine site at the old Sears store at Morgantown Mall.
The Sears clinic included MCHD staff members, nurses from WVU Medicine and Mon Health as well as volunteers, including some from the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) coordinated by MCHD Threat Preparedness.
“The team explained to us that those partnerships were really beneficial and that they wouldn’t have been able to have that same response if they didn’t have those MRC volunteers and nurses from hospitals and other clinics,” Mowson said. “They cultivated a lot of capacity and resource sharing to make the response robust.”
After the Sears operation closed, MCHD Threat Preparedness strategized on how to reach more individuals and to talk to those experiencing hesitancy to try to address fears or misinformation that they might have been experiencing.
Staffers began holding pop-up vaccine clinics around the county, teaming up with organizations including UniCare, a Medicaid health insurance partner; Pantry Plus More; the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties and area churches.
“In order to change someone’s mind, I think it’s being knowledgeable, being kind and letting them know that this is the information about vaccines and where you can find it, and being consistent,” said Chantry Michael, RN, Community Health and Outreach Coordinator for MCHD Threat Preparedness.
Added Moore: “We need to be non-judgmental, non-forceful and to give people a chance to get and process information to become comfortable with the science.”
Grant funding was also used for advertising campaigns across several different media, including radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, social media, streaming television and spots that are still running in Morgantown’s two movie theaters.
“Communication strategies were one of the deliverables we need to send back to NACCHO,” said Moore, who noted that a goal is to create “a document that organizes our thoughts and actions that will generate actual plans and protocols.
“All the information we gathered during the last three years, it’s all being evaluated,” Moore added. “We’re trying to learn as a group how public health can do things better and eliminate those reasons for hesitancy or reasons for vaccine inequity and improve health delivery for all.”
Mowson and Decea will visit other health departments, Moore said, and their observations and notes can allow for an exchange of ideas and best practices that can benefit everyone.
During their tour of Monongalia County Health Department, Mowson and Decea saw vaccine freezers that house COVID vaccines; construction that is being done to expand MCHD Dentistry by two additional operatories as well as some of the program’s services, including a same-day crown in the making; and additional exam rooms recently created for MCHD Clinical Services, one of which will be tailored for children.
“It’s definitely a robust health department,” Mowson said. “All the clinical services seem super nice and the dental office — I would go there. And the way that the teams work together stood out to us as an example we would like to share with others. Everyone works together to maintain the mission of the health department.”
For up-to-date information on health and wellness in Monongalia County, check out monchd.org and follow the health department on Facebook and Twitter @WVMCHD and on Instagram at #wvmchd.