Augusta University, Peach State Health Plan host panel to address COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy

Augusta University and Peach State Health Plan recently partnered to host a “Bridging the Gap on the COVID-19 Vaccine Panel Discussion” on Oct. 20 to raise awareness around COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in Georgia.

Representatives from Peach State Health Plan and Augusta University joined local leaders and Pro Football Hall of Famer Champ Bailey to discuss the importance of individual vaccinations, misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccine and how leaders can address these issues to increase vaccination rates in local communities.

In addition to the panel, AU Health partnered with the City of Augusta to host a one-day COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Good Shepherd Baptist Church. AU Health provided first and second doses of the vaccine, as well as booster shots, to members of the community at no cost. The one-day clinic is part of AU Health’s ongoing effort to provide no-cost vaccination sites.

During the discussion, Peach State Health Plan’s chief medical director and panel moderator Dr. James Richardson led panelists in a conversation focused on the significance of the vaccination, addressing common vaccine misconceptions and actions leaders can take to encourage more members of the public to get their vaccination.

“Educating the public with accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccine is critical to maintaining public health and stopping the further spread of the coronavirus,” said Richardson.

“Identifying vaccine misconceptions and discussing the safety of vaccinations in an open forum will encourage more Georgians to get the vaccines. These panels have been a vital tool in bringing this information to the public eye.”

Augusta University Health has been on the front lines throughout the pandemic. Since the introduction of the vaccine, AU Health has administered 70,000 doses to Georgia residents. Though this is progress, AU Health experts know there are still many hurdles to overcome before getting all of Georgia vaccinated.

“We have had great success getting vaccines in our communities but there are still many areas and populations within the state that are reluctant to take the vaccine due to misinformation and lack of education,” said Dr. Justin X. Moore, assistant professor within the Institute of Public and Preventive Health at Augusta University.

“We know that many factors contribute to vaccine hesitancy, such as an individual’s age, housing situation, income and lack trust in medical professionals, to name a few. With a disproportionately higher level of hesitancy in our Black and brown communities, addressing fears through local voices allows us to speak directly to the individual, dispelling rumors or misinformation.”

Peach State Health Plan has made the vaccine hesitancy panels a priority in Georgia. The Augusta panel is the third vaccine hesitancy panel hosted by Peach State Health Plan, with future panels still being planned.

“These vaccine hesitancy panels have been an incredibly effective tool for delivering crucial information about the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Wade Rakes, president and CEO of Peach State Health Plan.

“Providing an open discussion allows panelists to connect with members of their community. The collective experiences shared today about the vaccine are invaluable in protecting our communities from COVID-19 and its variants.”

Bailey joined the panel to continue his advocacy for COVID-19 vaccinations around the state. The former NFL cornerback discussed the importance of local voices educating the public to increase vaccination rates and decrease vaccine hesitancy.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there that can be addressed by community leaders using the power of their voices to cut through the noise,” said Bailey.

“Being a part of these open discussions gives individuals in the community information from someone they recognize and trust. This is my second vaccine hesitancy panel and the response we have gotten from each one has been incredible.”

The full “Bridging the Gap on the COVID-19 Vaccine: A Panel Discussion” livestream can be found here.

Panelists included:

  • Wade A. Rakes, president and CEO, Peach State Health Plan
  • James Richardson, MD, FACEP, chief medical director, Peach State Health Plan
  • Jose Vazquez, MD, FACP, FIDSA, division chief and professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Augusta University
  • Kim Michelle Thompson, MD, family medicine, AU Health
  • Justin X. Moore, PhD, MPH, assistant professor, Institute of Public and Preventive Health, Augusta University
  • Henry Holt III, chaplain, Pastoral Care, AU Health
  • The Hon. Harold Jones, Georgia state senator, District 22, Augusta
  • Champ Bailey, Pro Football Hall of Famer

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccination at Augusta University Health.

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Augusta University Staff is a collection of talented writers, photographers, students and professionals; all working together to promote and support the amazing impacts and every day wins of Augusta University and the people that make up JagNation.

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Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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