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Health & Wellness

How The Texas Town Of Mount Pleasant Leveled Up COVID-19 Vaccinations

A woman sitting in a chair is talking to a translator behind her before she receives a COVID-19 vaccine
Shelby Tauber
/
Texas Tribune
Onelia Orellana talks to Texas Department of State Health Services specialist and translator Maria Palacio before she receives her first COVID-19 vaccine dose at Tennison Memorial United Methodist Church in Mount Pleasant on May 7, 2021.

While Texas and other states have been struggling to get COVID-19 vaccines to people, Mount Pleasant in Northeast Texas has doubled its vaccination rate.

Karen Brooks Harper has been covering Mount Pleasant's vaccine efforts for The Texas Tribune. KERA's Justin Martin talked with Harper about how the town's successfully conquered vaccine hesitancy and accessibility issues by enlisting the community's help.

How Did Mount Pleasant Double Its Vaccine Rate?

So when eight weeks ago, their rates were fairly abysmal — for many reasons, demand was dipping all over the country — the locals and the regional public health types brought it to a really classic grassroots level.

They sent mobile clinics to the big poultry processing plant and the trailer manufacturing plant, which are the county's biggest employers.

They set up clinics in a local church downtown where people had been to health fairs already. And, they had Spanish-language community leaders like the Northeast Texas Unidos, who went on the radio and on podcasts and delivered flyers.

You had preachers talking about the vaccines in their Spanish-language churches.

So what they did was they relied on the trust and the relationships and the way people in small town Northeast, Texas are used to doing things. It was a huge success for them.

How Are Officials There Dealing With Vaccine Hesitancy?

This is where the radio and the church has really come into play.

That's what one of the members of the Northeast Texas Unidos told me. They're a nonprofit group in town that helps the Latino community, which is sizable by the way. Just as an aside, they've got the largest concentration of Hispanics out of any of the 35 counties in that public health region. They're nearly half Hispanic, so that is not a small thing.

Northeast Texas Unidos told me that if it's not on the radio [or] in church, they don't know what's going on and they don't believe it. Those are their trusted sources.

Getting the message out and having those communities encourage their friends and neighbors and their congregation members and their listeners, to think about it and try it has been extremely successful for them.

Then, you've got the peer pressure from coworkers. Some of the people I talked to there say they finally decided to get vaccinated because all their coworkers had been vaccinated.

What Keeps Some Residents From Getting The Vaccine?

There's a level of hesitancy in a Hispanic community, although it's not as high as it is in the white conservative community.

Culturally speaking, you see some hesitancy early on. Now they're getting a lot more interested in the vaccine. The people who are still worried about the process of going to get it tend to be the migrants, the people who are undocumented workers, who don't feel comfortable going to a mass vaccination site and getting stuck in the arm by a member of the Texas national guard.

They don't know if this person is going to ask them for citizenship or get suspicious if they don't have papers [they] are asking for. It's repeatedly stressed that citizenship is not a requirement. No one's asking for anybody's papers, but it's a turnoff.

Another part of the reason, and this isn't so much fear as it is accessibility. A lot of this population works in the poultry farms and the dairy farms and the processing plants, where they have split shifts and can't make appointments. So what really got them in was the walk-in when there was enough supply to offer the vaccines on a walk-in basis. That was very effective.

Going back to the government trust thing for a second, you know, in the Hispanic and the migrant community, there is a lot of fear for any government-run operations. One of the pastors was telling me there that there's some skepticism and it's an adversarial relationship for a lot of them with the government. So when you have government-run clinics with no buy-in from the local community, then it's harder for them to trust them.

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Justin Martin at Jmartin@kera.org. You can follow Justin on Twitter @MisterJMart.

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