Through local partnerships and events, a group of Mercer University students and faculty is helping to educate the community about the COVID-19 vaccine.
In May, 20 Mercer students were selected to participate in the national Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors initiative, through which they are doing public outreach to decrease vaccine hesitancy and increase vaccination rates. Under the guidance of faculty leaders Dr. Darlene Flaming, associate professor of religion, and Dr. Jose Pino, associate professor of Spanish, the students have hit the ground running by already hosting some events and working on plans for other initiatives.
“We’re thrilled that our students can serve as vaccine ambassadors to teach community members about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr. Kelly Reffitt, vice provost at Mercer. “The students are deeply committed to making positive differences in our community during this very challenging time.”
Research shows that Black, Native American and Latinx communities as well as politically and religiously conservative white communities are more likely to be reluctant to receive the vaccine, according to the description for the Mercer program. In addition, Black, Native American and Latinx communities have faced disproportionate health outcomes related to COVID-19.
In collaboration with Mercer Medicine, the ambassadors hosted a vaccine clinic geared toward Hispanic residents at Penfield Hall on the Macon campus on July 15. They advertised the event with area businesses, churches and organizations and translated all informational materials and paperwork to Spanish.
Dr. Pino said the event was successful, but there’s still a lot of work left to do. The Ambassadors hope to build on the momentum they started with a second clinic at Penfield Hall from 7:30-10 a.m. Aug. 5, Dr. Flaming said. It is free to receive the vaccine, and no appointments or medical insurance are needed.
“The (Hispanic participants) can feel more confident. They know they won’t have any problem with the language. Everything is in Spanish. Mercer is a safe space. Just come and get the vaccine,” Dr. Pino said.
Those who received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on July 15 will be able to get their second dose, and others may come to receive their first dose. While the event is geared toward the Hispanic community, it is open to everyone, Dr. Flaming said.
“I really do hope that people get the vaccine, especially with the Delta variant. It’s very dangerous. Hopefully people will take that to heart,” said sophomore Komal Gandhi, a biochemistry and molecular biology major. “In rural communities especially, the vaccination rates are very low. It’s important with all these variants that we’re protecting ourselves and the community, so we can stop the spread.”
Some of the ambassadors also worked a table at the Raiderfest event sponsored by the Bibb County School District at Northeast High School on July 17. They handed out information from the health department and talked with people about the vaccine.
Their table was located right next to the Department of Public Health’s vaccination booth, and several families received their vaccines right after talking with the Mercer students. There is a big need for outreach efforts like this that help the local school system and the Hispanic community, said Bailey Vickers, a senior biology major.
Gandhi and senior neuroscience major Erika Thomas are now planning a town hall meeting to coincide with OneMacon’s family event at Rosa Jackson Community Center on Sept. 11. There will be a vaccination clinic on site, and guest speakers will talk about the vaccine and their experiences with COVID-19.
Ambassadors who are not in Macon this summer are working on additional projects, such as podcasts and social media campaigns, Dr. Flaming said.
“The more people we get vaccinated, the less likely the virus is going to jump from one person to the next,” said Sang Nguyen, a junior majoring in public health and psychology. “By getting vaccinated, we’re already slowing the development of new variants.”
In addition to the Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors initiative, Mercer is participating in the White House and U.S. Department of Education’s COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge in order to assist with the nationwide effort to get as many Americans vaccinated as possible.
Mercer Medicine has been distributing vaccines on both the Atlanta and Macon campuses since late March. Appointments are now being accepted for vaccinations on Aug. 31 and Sept. 7 on the Atlanta campus and Aug. 27, Sept. 3 and Sept. 10 on the Macon campus. The vaccine is available to Mercer students and employees and community members. Click here to register.