Physician Travels Country to Get People Vaccinated through Education, Encouragement

Rhea Boyd, M.D., M.P.H

Photo Credit: Palo Alto Medical Foundation/Sutter Health

At the start of 2021, it seemed there was light at the end of the tunnel in the fight against COVID-19 in the U.S. Mass vaccination sites, community pop-up clinics and mobile units were getting shots into arms and hospitalizations were on the decline. Yet throughout much of the summer, vaccination rates fell significantly and the delta variant continued to spread.

In fact, the delta variant is now responsible for the vast majority of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. As of August 31, cases have risen to more than 150,000 per day in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. And more threats are on the horizon. The mu variant — the fifth coronavirus variant of interest — is under close watch by the World Health Organization as it spreads across South America, Europe and parts of North America.

Rhea Boyd, M.D., M.P.H, a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Sutter Health, is leading a national dialogue on reasons why people are still hesitant to get vaccinated. Lack of access to vaccines, a refusal to see COVID-19 as a threat, concern about the vaccines’ side effects and little trust in vaccine development and approval are key barriers. Black and Hispanic people remain less likely than their White counterparts to have received a vaccine, leaving them at increased risk, particularly as the delta variant spreads.

At a recent virtual event sponsored by the Alliance for Health Policy, Boyd said "Our nation's unvaccinated are not a monstrous monolith. This is not a group who is adverse to science, or medical care. We have seen that this is a group who is more likely to be our nation's working poor; they're more likely to lack the resources to actually access any type of healthcare, let alone a vaccination. And so if we're going to vaccinate them, we have to talk about what we're going to do to address access barriers both to the vaccines and other types of medical care, but also to information about vaccines."

Boyd believes that the best way to convince an unvaccinated person to get vaccinated may be to shift the conversation happening around them. In an interview with the Atlantic, Boyd “The language we use around unvaccinated people comes with a judgment—a condescension that “you’re unvaccinated and it’s your choice at this point.” That attitude is papering Twitter. It’s repeated by our top public-health officials. They’re railing on the unvaccinated as if they’re holding the rest of us back from normalcy. But unvaccinated people aren’t a random group of defectors who are trying to be deviant. They’re not all anti-vaxxers.”

Boyd partnered with the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Black Coalition Against COVID-19 to develop The Conversation: Between Us, About Us, a campaign dedicated to providing Black communities with accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccines. Black doctors, nurses and researchers dispel misinformation and provide accessible facts in 50 FAQ videos.

As a COVID-19 vaccination leader, Boyd represents Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Sutter Health through COVID-19 Ted Talks, Q&A panels, peer-to-peer presentations, policy sessions and more across the country. Sutter Health and its integrated network have a shared commitment to protecting the health and safety of patients and the communities they serve and beyond. The health system’s rigorous COVID-19 infection prevention protocols — and newly instituted mandatory workforce vaccine policy — so far have helped protect the health and safety of patients and staff. A full suite of online COVID-19 vaccine resources includes information on the different types of vaccines, vaccine safety, eligibility, dosage and how to treat potential side effects.

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