COVID: let facts be your guide

Virginia Department of Health dispels myths with 2-day seminar
Dr. Cynthia Morrow

by S. Rotan Hale

Every individual is unique and considering ours is a world under a viral siege, everyone has an opinion on vaccines. However people deserve to have their questions answered particularly before making a decision about vaccines, a perplexing issue that now dominates many conversations.

Naturally the decision to vaccinate or not to vaccinate should be based on trusted fact-based information as opposed to myths. In effort to provide such information, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) held a 2-day seminar September 13 &14 “Lunch and Learn” at the Roanoke Civic Center.

Organizers launched the seminar with the expressed effort to dispel the barrage of damaging myths that have caused much mistrust and confusion regarding vaccines in the ongoing fight against COVID-19 and the Delta variant.

“We have learned that there are 12 entities that post misleading information on social media aimed at discouraging people from getting vaccinated,” said Rev. Amy Hodge, pastor Mount Zion AME Church in northwest.

Hodge explained the mission of the seminar was to provide the public with correct information that would serve as myth busters.

“We are providing information from the Health Department, the CDC, and the FDA in contrast to myths circulating on social media,” she adds.

Rev. Hodge volunteers at VDH as community engagement coordinator. Her position puts her on the front line at clinics. She gets fired up when speaking of her experiences dealing with people feeding on the myths that ultimately fuel the fears regarding vaccinations.

“The clinics are staffed with nurses that administer the vaccines, however people, especially minorities, won’t come near because they are hesitant due to the mysteries and misinformation surrounding vaccinations.”

From left: Rev. Milton Hardy, Jr. and Rev. Amy Hodge

Rev. Milton Hardy Jr., has been community health worker supervisor for VDH since July. He and Pastor Cecil Scott, another associate who is health equity officer, were both hired by Gov. Ralph Northam under a short term contract to assist in raising African-American vaccination rates.

“People are worn out by the misinformation circulated through Facebook and other social media and my job is to tell our people what’s real and what’s not real,” said Hardy. Our job is to conduct the most effective outreach possible to balance this thing out and ensure people get the truth.”

Dr. Cynthia Morrow, director, RCAHD, led the seminar backed by facts projected on a giant screen that supported her lengthy and informative presentation.

Engaging the socially distanced audience she spoke of clinical study after study as proof of vaccine safety and boasted of their efficacy. Her comprehensive talk covered an array of topics as she discussed the critical need for vaccines, booster shots and many other aspects of the pandemic.

“Since COVID-19 we have lost more life expectancy than we have since the early 1900’s and that’s a big deal,” Morrow said revealing one of many facts covered.

According to a recent Oxford University study, COVID-19 caused the biggest jump in international mortality rates since World War II, with U.S. men losing 2.2 years – the biggest decline among males in 29 countries.

Over 40 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Other startling facts raised during the presentation showed 650,000 Americans have died with this disease that not only continues to plague but unfortunately has mutated into what the World Health Organization (WHO) has dubbed the Covid-19 Delta variant.

Studies show over 378 doses of the three currently approved vaccines available, Pfizer, Moderna (mRNA) and Johnson and Johnson (Adenovirus) have been administered in the United States as of July 2021, saving reportedly hundreds of thousands of lives.

Note: mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine that teaches our cells how to make a protein or even just a piece of a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. Adenovirus vaccines ward against Adenovirus infection. It was used by the United States military from 1971 to 1999 but was discontinued when the only manufacturer stopped production.

A recent report regarding Virginia vaccination statistics indicating total doses administered, show over 10 million Virginians vaccinated to date. A breakdown of the numbers shows over 5.5 million (5,553,998 / i.e. 65.1%) of Virginia’s adult population have been vaccinated with at least one dose of either vaccine. Additionally 4,921,231/ (57%) of Virginia’s adult population have been fully vaccinated.

During a Q&A that followed Brenda Hale, president local NAACP, inquired about vaccine mistrust regarding the African American community and also questioned COVID-9 treatment afforded to those under insured.

Morrow admitted to there being pockets of African American communities that information might not reach and said from an insurance perspective COVID treatment should be available without regard to insurance status.

“COVID vaccine is free no matter who you are or where you go,” she stated. It is a federally purchased vaccine that no individual is charged for. Money is never an issue for getting vaccinated.“

Connie Stevens, VP, Marketing and Communications, United Way of Roanoke Valley, came to the event seeking credible information.”

“It has been a very tough time for the community, the need is greater than it’s ever been and some resources have been depleted in the region but there are some silver linings,” and I would say that’s the collaboration that’s happening between so many nonprofits in the area that used to not work together and now they sit down at the same table so that they are never redundant with their resources and they’re maximizing the most of what they’ve got to help the biggest number of people.

Stevens is well-known as a seasoned journalist who once spent years on the circuit and in upper management with local news broadcast services. She is among many who trust the guidance of the Health Department and says, “because of all of the protocols and their focus on safety, they get it right.”

Additional facilitators joining VDH in hosting the event were: Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts (RCAHD), Virginia Department of Emergency Management and Roanoke City respectively.

For more “official” information on public health guidance during the pandemic, Covid avoidance, vaccination site listings, clinic dates and more contact the Virginia Health Department at (540) 682-3697.