Tanzina Vega: It's The Takeaway, I'm Tanzina Vega. When it comes to fighting vaccine hesitancy, the word of community leaders goes a long way in reaching places where skepticism and distrust persist, particularly in areas where vaccines are readily available, but residents are reluctant to sign up.
In the rural Mississippi Delta region, Pam Chatman, founder of Boss Lady Workforce Transportation has been doing just that, whether that means driving Mississippi residents to vaccine sites or advocating to bring the vaccine sites to them. Pam, welcome to the show.
Pam Chatman: Hello, thank you for having me.
Tanzina Vega: Tell us what your work looks like. You've been doing this work in Mississippi since the pandemic began, what do you do exactly?
Pam Chatman: We created what is called the VTI, which is Vaccination Transportation Initiative. We wanted to make sure that people in the rural areas of Mississippi did not have an excuse that they didn't have transportation, or they didn't have the funds to pay for transportation. We actually created that so that we can help transport people to the different clinics based around Mississippi Delta area to get them to get vaccinated at no cost.
Tanzina Vega: Pam, we know that Mississippi has one of the lowest rates of vaccine distribution so far. In a prior segment, we were talking about the fact that there was a website meant to sign people up that had thousands of unfilled vaccine appointments. When you see something like that, how does that square with the work that you do?
Pam Chatman: Well, I think one of the reasons why we're still having that large number of registration is because all of a sudden people, like myself, have started to have pop-up vaccination in different communities so people do not have to register to get that vaccination, just come up and show their ID.
We're starting to see long lines here across Mississippi at pop-up because we're popping up actually in their own environment, in their own community, and people here feel safer just going to their own community sites.
Tanzina Vega: The pop-up sites are working, in terms of what you're seeing, they're working because they're just like, "Here, you can get a vaccine today, you don't need to have a special appointment, you can just show right up"?
Pam Chatman: Absolutely. Then also, that helps because a lot of people here still do not have internet access and so they just pop up at the drive-through vaccinations, and just show their ID and be done with it. They don't have to go through the time of, "You can come next month, you can come next week," you get the vaccination right then and there. When you make up your mind that this is what you want, go through the drive-through, and get it over with.
Tanzina Vega: Pam, is that the biggest barrier to getting people in the Mississippi Delta region vaccinated? Is it not having internet access? What is it in your opinion?
Pam Chatman: The accessibility is always a key for Mississippi because we do not have a lot of public transit that rolls every day consistently, that is one barrier. The other barrier is that we do not have internet access in a lot of different rural communities. Then the other big thing is that people just don't believe that this vaccine is what they need to take.
Tanzina Vega: Pam, who are we talking about in Mississippi, who are you seeing are some of the folks that are most hesitant to be vaccinated because there are so many different stories and narratives that emerge, whether it's people of color Latinos, Black people, Republicans, who are you seeing in your community that's having the most trouble getting vaccinated?
Pam Chatman: We're seeing a lot of hesitance from the younger generation. I've been doing the drive-through transportation vaccinations, and when I go I'm not seeing not one young person at the age of 18 show up. We're seeing a lot of the elderly community people come out to vaccination, so the younger generation, it is hard.
Tanzina Vega: Is there a difference in terms of the race of folks that you're looking at as well or as we know that there have been-- I think some of these narratives have been done over and over where it seems to focus just on Black and brown communities, but there's evidence that white Americans also have vaccine hesitancy?
Pam Chatman: Absolutely. I'm not seeing a whole lot of them at the current ones that I've been attending here across Mississippi, but yesterday I was at one and we had a very diverse group of people there. We had Chinese, we had Caucasians and so we also have African Americans. Yesterday, we did see a diverse group of people come out to get vaccinated.
Tanzina Vega: Some of the pop-up vaccination sites have been at interesting locations. One of them was recently at the BB King Museum, right?
Pam Chatman: Absolutely. I was there. Yes, ma'am. It was a very great turnout because it was very interesting, let me say that because we noticed that a lot of the people that came to get vaccinated at the BB King Museum, they all were in the J&J line. There was absolutely no one in the Moderna line. It was just simply very amazing to see so many people stay in line for hours of three or four blocks long just to get the
Tanzina Vega: Now we know that J&J has been paused this week because of concerns over blood clots, are you concerned about that pause?
Pam Chatman: We much so. We had scheduled a drive-through pop-up yesterday where we had about 300 plus to register for the J&J. No one else is wanting anything else but J&J, and as soon as five o'clock that morning hit about the J&J being stopped, we immediately went down to 50 people. That's a big concern for us here in Mississippi because a lot of the people just want to do the one-shot and be done with it. If we can get anything that encourages him to get vaccinated and when J&J pulls out, we can see the numbers, we see the reactions from them moving forward.
Tanzina Vega: Now, of course, so far, this isn't a permanent change but it is a change that's happening right now as health officials try to determine what's happening. Why is there such a preference for the J&J shot? Is it also because the vaccine itself is easier to administer, it doesn't require all the sort of special temperature cold spaces that all these other shots require, but is it also just the question of ease? Do you think that taking away the J&J shot is going to at least temporarily, maybe not, stop the flow but do you think people are going to get worried and maybe not want to come out at all?
Pam Chatman: We do have that concern, but a good example is last night, we received a email from a lady who asked us, "When is J&J coming back? I only want to take that, I have a pacemaker, so can you please keep me updated on when you will have the J&J."
Different people have different health concerns, and they feel more comfortable as, "I don't have to come back. I just want to get it done and get it over with." We're hearing a lot of that and so that's what people were saying when they pulled out yesterday. "We just don't want to do it."
Tanzina Vega: Pam, what kind of help do you need or are you getting from Mississippi health officials and/or government officials there?
Pam Chatman: I'm proud to say that I have had a lot of help. We've had help from our hospitals, we've had help from Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, we've had help from all the different clinics. People have all been all-hands-on-deck, trying to do what we can to encourage these individuals here to get vaccinated. I'm just grateful that we've had great support from the community help of individuals and organizations here in Mississippi.
Tanzina Vega: Pam Chatman is the founder of Boss Lady Workforce Transportation. Pam, thanks so much for joining us.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.