How Food Banks Can Help Address Vaccine Hesitancy

by Kristin Gourlay Blue Cross Blue Shield Association

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only increased the need for hunger relief; it has drawn more attention to the inequalities that often lead to hunger. Something similar is happening with COVID-19 vaccines, with communities of color less likely to be vaccinated than white communities. Hesitancy about vaccines is playing a role in that gap.

Because food banks work directly with clients every day, they can play a strong role in keeping their clients healthy and informed.

Who’s Vaccinated, Who’s Hesitating, and Why?

Half the U.S. adult population is currently fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, fewer Blacks and Hispanics have received vaccines than whites and, across all races and ethnicities, some people are still hesitant about receiving the vaccine. Recent survey numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show a little more than 11% of U.S. adults say they are either unsure about getting vaccinated or probably won’t.

Their top reasons? More than half aren’t sure it’s safe or are concerned about side effects. The answer is to acknowledge those uncertainties and address them with the facts, in easy-to-understand language from a trusted source. That is why we have partnered with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

Answering Questions about Vaccines with the Facts

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association together with Feeding America has provided a variety of ready-to-use covid-19 vaccination educational materials in English and Spanish for use across our network of 200 food banks. These materials include social media posts, posters and flyers with frequently asked questions. The information comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as from doctors and other clinical experts who work at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. A toolkit for the materials is available in the Hunger + Health resource library.

The materials focus on some key questions

  • Are the vaccines safe?
  • Do people really need a vaccine?
  • Are they effective?

The responses are straightforward, factual and even acknowledge what scientists don’t know about the vaccines. For example, when it comes to safety, food banks can post this language on their social media accounts, “Some people may experience mild side effects, but that’s a sign the COVID-19 vaccine is working.” For people who ask whether they should still get the vaccine even if they’ve had COVID-19, there’s language that reminds audiences that COVID-19 can still pose a health risk, and we don’t yet know how long natural immunity lasts. So, experts recommend people get the vaccine even if they’ve already had the virus.

The hope is that those kinds of clear, factual answers from trusted sources will help reassure people that it’s safe—and important—to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

About the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is a national federation of 35 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide health care coverage for one in three Americans.

Author Bio:

Kristin Gourlay is a writer and multimedia brand journalist for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. She has covered healthcare and the environment for more than 15 years, most recently for Rhode Island Public Radio and as a Kaiser Health News/NPR reporting fellow.