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Southwest Michigan Organizations Join To Boost Vaccination Rates And Combat Misinformation

(Courtesy of IU Health)

Public health agencies and nonprofits in southwest Michigan have joined to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates across three counties. 

The Berrien County Health Department, the United Way of Southwest Michigan and the Van Buren-Cass District Health Department are looking for what they call “vaccine champions.”


Berrien County Health Department spokesperson Gillian Conrad said a champion can be anyone from a nonprofit organization to an individual person – as long as they’re willing to get out and educate their community about the vaccine.


“Meeting with their neighbors, friends or family members, sharing information in person or maybe on social media, even driving friends or family members to vaccination appointments,” she said. “These are all ways in which our champions can help their friends, families and neighbors in getting those vaccines.”


Conrad said the goal is to combat misinformation about the vaccine through “credible, trusted messengers.” She said champions will be chosen based on their demographic or geographic sphere of influence and their dedication to sharing accurate public health information.


“The spread of health misinformation causes confusion, it truly harms people’s health and it undermines our public health efforts,” Conrad said. “We’re hoping that this group of champions will help us with this aligned message in reaching more people.”


Currently, about 54 percent of Berrien County residents age 12 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. That number is lower in Cass County – about 38 percent – and slightly higher in Van Buren County, where 56.5 percent of the eligible residents have received a first dose.


The agencies are accepting applications until Aug. 9. Conrad said champions will receive a brief training on effective outreach tactics after they’re chosen. 


The United Way of Southwest Michigan will also administer mini-grants to help champions with their outreach efforts, and will keep track of their activities through regular reports. 


Individuals and organizations interested in becoming vaccine champions can apply through United Way’s website, or call (269) 932-3566.


Contact Gemma atgdicarlo@wvpe.orgor follow her on Twitter at@gemma_dicarlo.


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Gemma DiCarlo came to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.