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Gateway District Health leaders using new approach to encourage vaccinations

Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 3:40 PM EDT
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ROWAN COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) - In the last several months, we have seen a wave of COVID-19 cases that have put a strain on Kentucky hospitals and those health care workers struggling to keep patients alive.

The governor, doctors and other experts will tell you a vaccination is the key to getting through this pandemic.

In Rowan County, the Gateway District Health Department is going to new lengths to try and reach more people using a neighbor-to-neighbor approach and a place where a lot of people venture, social media.

Like so many Kentucky communities, Morehead and Rowan Co. have felt the burden and impact of COVID 19, it’s seen its hospital pushed to the max with some of the sickest patients and it finds a way to affect just about everything.

“It’s hard to do services when you are not sure you have the personnel available to do the services. It does make it difficult to concentrate on daily activities that we normally deal with when you have to add the layer of COVID with it,” said Harry Clark, Rowan Co. Judge-Executive.

Judge-Executive Clark is tasked with running the county, he says it’s been hard to watch the toll COVID has taken on the community he serves.

“I know a lot of folks in this county and it just hurts me to see folks who are suffering, families suffer because of COVID, and I think the fix for this is vaccines,” said Clark.

At the time of this story, in Rowan, the latest state numbers show there have been 3,267 cases confirmed and 26 deaths. For Rowan Co. from February 1 to September 30:

  • Breakthroughs cases: 213 average age-54
  • Breakthrough deaths: 3 average age-82
  • Unvaccinated cases: 1499 average age-33
  • Unvaccinated deaths: 14 average age-74

Right now, there is a 51.47% vaccination rate, it’s good, but not where public health leaders would like it to be.

“One of public health’s big roles is to try to communicate with public and change their behavior, so, since COVID started, that’s been a big part of what we do and it’s tough,” said Mike Mattox, Gateway District Health Department.

Mattox says he and his team have heard just about everything when it comes to why people won’t get vaccinated.

“There is so much noise out there, there is so much going on that it’s hard to get the information out there,” said Mattox.

That’s why they are taking a new approach, if people want information from Facebook, then that’s where they are going.

Using a neighbor talking to neighbor approach with new social media posts from community members touting their reasons for getting vaccinated, hoping to spur on others:

Sheriff Matt Sparks got sick early on in the pandemic, he admits he was hesitant about getting it, but protecting and serving others eventually led him to the shot.

“Obviously, that vaccination part, for me, was more about keeping those I care about, my family and my friends and even the people I’m in their homes on a regular basis. I thought, ‘I’m going to do this as much for them as it was for me’ I felt,” said Matt Sparks, Rowan Co. Sheriff.

Teddy Wright, a retired grandfather also needed some convincing. He says he finally had to turn off social media and when he saw friends gravely ill, he took notice.

“After really seeing what’s going and like I said turning social media off and seeing what’s going on around me and everything the virus is very dangerous and you know I want to live as long as I can and be with my grandkids my family so it’s something I had to do,” said Wright.

Dr. Jessica Lykins, a the Director of Nursing for Gateway District Health says there are a lot of people like Wright.

Lykins is hoping this new social media push helps encourage more people to seek out good information.

“Really and truthfully I want people to understand that it truly is a safe vaccine, vaccines were created many years ago with the intent to solve problems,” said Jessica Lykins.

It is a county rocked hard by COVID, but one that doesn’t easily quit.

“This county and this city has a history of not giving up on anything,” said Judge-Executive Clark.

And with that kind of attitude, public health leaders aren’t giving up either continuing to push every day for just one more person to roll of their sleeve.

“I believe we are people you can trust and what we want to say is this vaccine is the way out of this mess that we are in, so please get vaccinated,” said Mattox.

Gateway District Health Department serves Bath, Elliott, Menifee, Morgan and Rowan counties, to find them online click here.

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