To Fight Pandemic Fatigue, Open Dialogue Is Key, Says Houston Nonprofit
The Institute for Spirituality and Health explains how community health workers can adapt to COVID-19 variants, changing government guidelines, and pandemic fatigue.
The COVID-19 pandemic is entering its fifth year.
Since the virus first came on the scene, we’ve made significant progress, with the development of mRNA and protein-based vaccines, treatment options like Paxlovid, and a better understanding of ways to prevent long COVID. Still, the virus hasn’t gone away, as seen by last month’s uptick in cases caused by JN.1 subvariant.
PGN spoke with Moji Delano, FaithHealth project coordinator at the Institute for Spirituality and Health in Houston, to learn about how community health workers can adapt their efforts to respond to COVID-19 variants, changing government guidance, and pandemic fatigue.
Here’s what she said.
PGN: What is your mission, and how has your organization’s vaccine outreach work evolved over the last few years?
Moji Delano: At ISH, our main mission is to enhance well-being by exploring the relationship between spirituality and health.
So, in our FaithHealth Vaccine Initiative, we focus on bridging the gap between faith communities, health clinics, and vaccine providers. We also support and coordinate health fairs, mobile clinics, and town halls with those vaccine providers or any other health or vaccine expert.
The program’s funding is structured from April to April. Last year, we assisted in giving more than 350 vaccines for COVID-19 and flu, and we directly educated more than 150 people.
And now, nine months into the current year, we’ve seen more than 100 people get vaccinated for flu and COVID-19. And we’ve directly educated more than 300 people.
The reason why I wanted to go over those numbers is because that’s where we are in this COVID-19 pandemic. People are getting vaccinated, or they’re keeping up with their vaccines; they’ve at least had that first set, that primary vaccine.
But it’s really education that’s key.
There’s so much information out there that community members are struggling. They’re just like, “What do we need to know? What do we need to do?”
And keep in mind those are the main questions that we get out of our town halls. We give them these presentations, and they’re like, “Okay, of everything you’ve just said, what do I need to do?”
[The end of the federal COVID-19 public health emergency] created this drop-off in information. Before, you couldn’t go seconds without seeing a commercial, or an ad, or something about washing your hands, wearing a mask, and about COVID-19.
PGN: Is the demand for public health education and information higher than before?
M.D.: Yes, I would definitely say that.
There’s less urgency and panic. I think people are starting to see the value of the vaccine and see the value of having general education and being up to date on all the information that they can.
PGN: How did the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency impact your community’s ability to access vaccines?
M.D.: The change in that whole landscape has been something that we’ve had some challenges navigating. I mean, talk about the need for information and education. Just the way that those changes and requirements and regulations were coming out was a bit confusing, even for us. The insurance requirements are a bit challenging because we work a lot with people that are in that in-between space, where, yes, they have insurance, but they don’t have a primary doctor that they go to routinely.
So, it’s been really challenging when we’re hosting these mobile clinics, and we have people, parents, families coming up and saying that this is the only opportunity they have to get vaccinated, but then they get turned away because they have insurance.
That’s been pretty tricky over the last couple of months, and we still haven’t really found an immediate solution.
PGN: What type of messaging promotes vaccine confidence?
M.D.: There’s just a really big need for clear communication. Short and concise is the way to go.
When [our partners] come to us and say, “How should we address this?” My answer is usually, “Just let them ask questions.”
Host a town hall, bring someone in, or call us [with questions], and we’ll bring in someone that has the right accreditation to answer questions.
Just have that open and transparent communication and create a space where everyone feels safe to ask questions. Even if four people ask the same question, word your answers differently. They should feel safe to do so and not get ridiculed for it.
Every person is unique, and every person reacts to information differently. So, we want them to feel safe to ask any questions they have.