by CHRIS ROGERS

Local folks are sharing their reasons for getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in a new video series from Winona County Public Health. Nearly 40 percent of Winona County residents have so far opted to not receive COVID vaccines. Epidemiologists say low vaccination rates are allowing the virus to continue circulating, evolving, and infecting vulnerable people. Public health workers are hopeful that hearing authentic messages from real people in their community may inspire some of those residents to give immunization a second thought. If that’s not enough, the county and state are also offering monetary incentives for vaccinations.

“I have lost four friends to COVID in the last three weeks, and a fifth is fighting for his life,” Goodview resident Gary Evans said in one of the short videos. “None of those friends listened when I tried to talk to them about the importance of getting the vaccine. To me, there is just no reasonable excuse to avoid getting the shots. A short stop at Winona Health or the office of your favorite pharmacist will only take but a few seconds, but those few seconds can add years to your lives. If you haven’t been vaccinated, please do it now.”

Vaccines do make a big difference on how people fare with COVID. According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), in mid-September unvaccinated Minnesotans got infected at a rate four times higher than that of vaccinated individuals, unvaccinated individuals’ rate of hospitalization for COVID was over 15 times higher, and the rate at which they died as a result of COVID was 16 times higher. Information about COVID vaccines and where to find them is available at www.vaccines.gov.

“I chose to get vaccinated because I want to protect myself and my friends and family and those in the Winona community who are unable to get vaccinated,” Winona State University student Kendra Nusbaum said in another video. “As a future nurse, I’ve seen how COVID has already exhausted our health care system, and by getting vaccinated it helps reduce some of those burdens that have been placed on our health care system,” she added.

“For me it does come down to my religious belief that we have to care for our neighbors, and during a global pandemic the best way we can care for our neighbors is to be vaccinated,” another participant in the series, First Congregational Church Pastor Danielle Bartz, told the Post. 

Winona County COVID-19 Campaign Coordinator Valerie Williams helped organize the series. “The local voice is really important in trying to get true information out,” she said, “and not just the science, but the fact that we can do this together.”

The videos are available on the Facebook page for Winona County Health and Human Services.

The effort faces some headwinds. Bartz mentioned that she received some negative feedback from local residents as a result of her video, and Williams said that concerns about backlash has held others back from participating in the series. 

“There’s a lot of disinformation, misinformation coming out of a small group of people,” Williams acknowledged. “Just for the general public, we want to keep putting out the real information and saying that it is safe, and as more people that have been vaccinated over more time, it’s showing that vaccination works.”

After an initial clamor for vaccines this spring, demand flatlined, and for months this summer and early fall, Winona County’s vaccination rate was stalled in the low 50s. That improved in October, according toMDH, with over 5,000 county residents getting vaccinated compared to half that figure in September. Now 58 percent of all residents are fully vaccinated, and over 60 percent have had at least one dose. “That’s encouraging to me,” Winona County Board member Chris Meyer said.

“Gary really started [the series] strong because his message really touched a lot of people, and there was a really strong response to him sharing his personal story,” Williams said. “We’re looking for that, more of that.”

Williams said people interested in participating in the video series may contact her at vwilliams@co.winona.mn.us. She and Meyer encouraged people to be creative, too, about how they could contribute such as through music or art.

County offers $50 vaccine incentive; state offers $200 to youth

Both Winona County and the state of Minnesota are offering rewards for people who get vaccinated for the first time.

Anyone who receives their first vaccine dose at one of Winona County’s vaccination clinics between November 1 and December 31, 2021, will receive a $50 Visa gift card. There are upcoming clinics on Nov. 7, 12, 14, and 18. Click here for more information and to register. 

The state of Minnesota is offering children and teens age 12-17 $200 Visa gift cards if they get fully vaccinated before November 30. Minnesotans age 12-17 may also be entered into a drawing to win one of five $100,000 college scholarships if they get fully vaccinated before the end of the year. For more information visit mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/vaccine-rewards/kids-deserve-a-shot/.

Chris@winonapost.com