Mayor Lightfoot testifies in front of Congress on how Chicago is overcoming vaccine hesitancy

“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach,” Lightfoot said

By Craig Wall

COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Chicago and across Illinois took center stage Wednesday afternoon as Congress looks for ways to get more shots in arms.

With the vaccine now being available for kids age 5 to 11, and with COVID cases ticking upward as we approach the holidays, there is renewed effort to get more people vaccinated.

“Nationwide more than 20% of all adults and children over the age of 12 have not yet received even one dose of vaccine,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Northwest suburbs.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Dr. Ngozi Ezike testified Wednesday before a congressional subcommittee about what has or has not worked to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

Lightfoot cited Chicago’s hyperlocal efforts directed at communities where vaccination rates are low, including using ambassadors to go door-to-door to encourage people to get the shot.

“Right now, where we are, you really, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach,” Lightfoot said. “You’ve got to simply start the conversation by listening and really getting an understanding of what the particular person’s hesitancy is.”

In rural parts of the state where vaccination rates lag, state officials are finding a different approach works better.

“When they see a physician or a nurse practitioner of another clinician that is known to them that’s from the local community, sometimes that correct messenger is the person whose message will be received,” Ezike said.

Ezike added that it’s important for leaders to proactively combat vaccine misinformation. She said vaccine mandates also help.

Those working at the ground level say people cite fears about the speed of the vaccine development or concerns about its safety as obstacles to getting their shots.

“What we do is share with them that they also need to be concerned about the long-term effects of the virus should they be infected,” said Martha Martinez, an IDPH Pandemic Health Navigator who works in Elgin.

It is important information as Congress looks for how and where to invest resources.

“This provides very useful feedback as to what might be working, what could use tweaking and what might not be working,” said Congressman Krishnamoorthi, who chaired the hearing.

Even with all the information gathered, there was an acknowledgment that there is always going to be a certain percentage of people who are not going to want to get vaccinated – and it may not be possible to overcome that hesitancy or resistance.