WILLMAR, Minn. — As his words spoken in English were then translated into Somali, Spanish and Karen languages, Dr. Lee Haggenjos responded to questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine during a meeting Sunday evening, April 11, at the MidTown Plaza in downtown Willmar.
There were questions about the differences in the three different types of vaccines currently being used in the U.S., whether getting the vaccine can make you ill, if it’s safe for women who are pregnant and if it causes infertility in men.
All three vaccines are equally effective, the shots won’t give a person COVID-19, the vaccine is safe for women who are pregnant and, according to Haggenjos, research shows that COVID-19 — and not the vaccine — can cause infertility in men.
The medical facts appeared to make a difference to the group, who lined up to be vaccinated. More than half of the 90 doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot available Sunday were administered during the event.
The vaccine clinic and listening session, held in a location frequented by the local minority population and offered in multiple languages, was a way to make sure people who have been hesitant to get the vaccine have the correct information.
“We have been hearing there’s a lot of misinformation and myths versus facts that some people from the surrounding cultures were trying to navigate,” said Jennie Lippert, director of the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Department.
“Our goal at public health is to assure that people in our community get the correct information and then will ultimately want to opt in to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said.
Pairing with Carris Health, the United Community Action Partnership and Kandiyohi County Emergency Management Services, the county’s Public Health Department administered shots in the arm during the event at the Somali-owned venue.
There have not been a large number of people from minority groups at past vaccine clinics in Willmar, which Lippert said helped them realize that transportation and work schedules can be barriers to getting the shot. That’s why the session was held on a Sunday evening in downtown Willmar.
“We want to break down the walls of vaccine hesitancy but also bring the vaccine to where they’re at,” said Ali Lesterberg, Carris Health COVID Vaccine Coordinator and Manager of Nursing Services. She said there’s been a “major deficiency” in the number of people from diverse groups at vaccine clinics in the county and around the state.
Haggenjos, a family medicine physician who has been at Carris Health since October, said his role is to be “both within and outside the walls of the clinic and the hospital and to try to meet patients where they are.”
But being hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine can also be based on a lack of accurate information, which is why a question-and-answer session was scheduled.
Haggenjos said it’s important that misinformation about the vaccine is corrected and myths dispelled.
In response to some of the other questions that were asked, Haggenjos said the three vaccines used in the U.S. are not linked to deadly blood clots that have been reported in other countries that use a different vaccine. He said all vaccines available here are safe and effective and have been put through “rigorous” tests.
He explained that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being given at the event requires only one shot but is just as effective as the Pfizer and Moderna two-dose vaccines. Because of the high demand for all vaccines, Haggenjos recommended taking whatever was available.
Haggenjos reminded participants that it takes about two weeks after being vaccinated to be fully protected and that wearing masks and social distancing is still necessary.
Based on the number of questions asked during the forum and the number of people who did get vaccinated, Lippert said it was clear that some people were initially hesitant about the vaccine but that the dialogue between the participants and Dr. Haggenjos may have changed their minds.
“It was really good to see that people came here and they do really have questions to ask,” she said. “I think it was a great discussion.”