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Colorado's Rural Health Departments Work With Churches And Social Media Influencers To Encourage Vaccinations

FORT MORGAN, Colo. (CBS4) – A new push to get more people vaccinated in the rural communities of northeast Colorado includes partnerships between the health department and entities the community trusts, such as churches, community groups, and influencers.

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(credit: CBS)

Of the six counties served by the Northeast Colorado Health Department, only Phillips County can say more than 50% of residents have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Nearby Morgan County is just below that mark, but Logan and Washington counties are farther behind at 35 and 31%.

"We've been able to get vaccine to everyone who's wanted it, and now we're working hard to educate people," said Sarah Pokoski, COVID resource coordinator for the department.

According to Pokoski, misinformation and hesitancy remain ongoing challenges, but in many cases, it's a lack of accessibility.

"Some of that is due to language or cultural barriers. We have a very diverse population in Fort Morgan. We also have accessibility issues because of the large area that we cover," Pokoski said. "Some of those places are incredibly remote and we have a lot of older population, so we have to look at disability access."

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Soon, the department will try a new strategy, which includes recruiting local influencers to leverage their trust with the community to share information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Basically, we're going to do a social media campaign, as well as YouTube, we've got a YouTube channel, said Mary Brumage, marketing and media specialist for NCHD.

Brumage said the messages will come from prominent teens, public officials, and school leaders. The public could start seeing the posts and videos as early as next week.

"In rural communities, influencers are different than those in urban areas, because they might be your neighbor, they might be somebody you see every day. I think that makes a big difference," Brumage said. "We're really hoping that they take that influencer plus us and believe in what we're trying to ask them to do."

This weekend, the department, along with several community groups focused on the Latino population, will also hold a health fair at St. Helena Catholic Church in Fort Morgan. Attendees will have access to free COVID vaccines, as well as testing for cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and A1C.

"One of the biggest groups that we have in Fort Morgan is our Latino community. They still have some hesitancy, still have some questions, so the Catholic Church is a really big pillar in that community, and we've partnered with them," Pokoski said.

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For the health department, both efforts are rooted in using existing trust to get the community more informed and open to a vaccine.

"I think our big goals are making sure we get that information out to people in ways that they trust," Pokoski said.

The health fair will be Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The church is located at 816 Park St. in Fort Morgan.

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