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As a part of my work scope as a fellow for Edgecombe County, I’ve been asked to strategize ways to increase the county’s overall vaccination rate. Currently, the vaccination rate in Edgecombe County is less than 45%. Although the number of COVID – 19 cases in Edgecombe County remains relatively stable, it continues to be important that people get vaccinated to prevent future breakouts. Thus, the County Manager and I came up with the idea of a video series that features members of the community discussing their pandemic difficulties and what motivated them to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The following Q+A is from an interview I conducted with Michelle Etheridge, the Edgecombe County Interim Health Director. An edited version of the interview can be found on YouTube titled, “Why I Got the Shot! Hear from a Leader in Public Health.”

(Some parts of the interview have been edited for clarity)

When did you first hear of Coronavirus, and do you remember how you initially felt? “I first heard of Coronavirus back in January of 2020. We started having some state calls…hearing the buzz about it and started having weekly calls at the health department about it. And I just remember thinking, what is going on? What are we facing? You know, is this going to just be something like the flu? Surely, I didn’t think it would be as big as it has become.”

How has life changed during the pandemic? “Life, especially in public health, has just been non-stop! It’s what we train to do – this is what we do in public health, and ever since the beginning of the pandemic have been doing everything we can to provide everything the public needs, ensuring that their health and safety are number one.”

Do you have concerns about becoming ill with COVID – 19? “The biggest thing I worry about is becoming ill myself and then affecting family members or coworkers. So, my concern has been more about other people than with myself.”

Are you worried about the delta variant? “Lately we have had a lot of positives, especially in the school system with children, and the delta variant seems to be the predominant one. So I am a little concerned that it might be coming through in a big wave.”

What are your thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccines? “They’re safe. They’re effective. We’ve done a lot of vaccinations but we’ve got a long way to go…people need to make the decision for themselves, but I do think the vaccinations will help prevent people from getting sick.”

Are you vaccinated? “I am vaccinated. I have family members that if they were to become ill it would be very detrimental to their health and I didn’t want to be the reason they became sick – I didn’t want to contribute to that. So, I felt like it was the right thing to do for myself and my family.”

What do you wish people knew about the vaccines? “I wish there was maybe an easier way to explain the vaccine to the general public so that they would feel more secure in getting the vaccine.”

Do you have concerns about the current rate of vaccinations in Edgecombe County? “I do. I know a lot of our providers have worked hard to vaccinate Edgecombe County and the surrounding areas but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Why are people hesitant about the vaccine? “I really think it’s fear… I think it’s the fear of not knowing – hearing a lot of mixed reviews and inconsistent messages, and I think that contributes to their fear.”

How do we encourage people to get vaccinated? “We can encourage people through education. Taking the time to talk with people about the vaccine, educating them with as much factual knowledge as possible. I also think people who have been vaccinated sharing their experience can ease some of those fears.”

What is the best resource for COVID-19 information? “The CDC is a great website, they have a plethora of information available. The Edgecombe County website also has some good information. But also talk to your healthcare provider about your current health and see what they recommend.”

How do we overcome COVID-19? “It’s kind of like teamwork. We’re all facing this pandemic together – we need to come together, educate each other, support each other, and provide resources for each other so that people can get vaccinated and protect themselves.”

What do you miss most about life before COVID – 19? “I think it’s just the freedom to come and go. You know we used to be able to just come and go throughout the community and I miss that. I feel like now we need to be more cautious about where we go and making sure we’re wearing our masks and keeping our distance.”

Final Thoughts? “Just know the vaccines are safe, effective, available throughout the community, and are much needed to help get us through this pandemic.”