Nevada community health worker helps fight vaccine hesitancy at Black churches

Michael Venton knows all too well the pain and heartbreak that vaccine hesitancy, due to misinformation, can have on a family. Since the pandemic began, Michael has lost three family members due to complications from COVID-19.

“I noticed that misinformation led to vaccine hesitancy within my own family,” Michael said. “By taking the step to have open and honest conversations with my family regarding this misinformation, it eventually led them to trust the medicine and get vaccinated. I knew I could use this same approach with my outreach work.”

Michael has been a part of the Health Plan of Nevada’s (HPN) Community Health Worker Program for more than three years, focused on increasing access to care for those in need. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, his focused shifted from informing the Black community in Las Vegas on Medicaid coverage to dispelling misinformation around COVID-19 and addressing vaccine hesitancy.

Michael got to work, catering his approach to meeting the community where they were. He began speaking to local churches, school administrators, at minister breakfasts, grocery stores and restaurants in the historic westside of Las Vegas. Beyond providing accurate information about COVID-19, Michael acted as a patient advocate and assisted in setting up multiple vaccine appointments for clients.

One client, Michael recalls, spoke with him at length about his hesitancy toward the legitimacy of the COVID-19 vaccine. Michael worked with him to ensure he understood the risks of not being vaccinated and eventually, helped him set up an appointment for his first dose. In order to be sure he had all the tools he needed to successfully become fully vaccinated, Michael secured transportation to and from the vaccination clinic and accompanied him to provide moral support – for both vaccine appointments.

Through his continued outreach, Michael has seen a steady decline in vaccine hesitancy amongst the local Black community and attributes this to the open and honest discussions he and his team have, that ultimately lead to trust.

By educating, dispelling misinformation and providing the tools to make getting vaccinated easier – Michael is thrilled with the positive effects of his team’s efforts during these unprecedented times.

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