A group of Dominican University students helped persuade more than 300 people to get vaccinated in Maywood, where, according to county data, only 40 percent of residents are fully vaccinated.
The River Forest university’s Faith in the Vaccine program over the summer focused on communities with many COVID-19 infections and low vaccination rates.
“The Interfaith Youth Core is one of our longstanding partners at Dominican and they recognized the role faith-based communities can play in communities heavily impacted by COVID,” said Tara Segal, program director.
The students assisted with vaccination efforts at a range of Maywood faith-based institutions, including the Quinn Center at St. Eulalia Parish, Holy Corinthians, Miracle Revival Church, the Maywood Park District and the Center for Spiritual and Public Leadership in Maywood.
Segal said the program was established back in May, with roughly 50 students applying in a matter of days. They ended up with a cohort of 12 participants, she said.
The dozen participants reached out to people in laundromats, food pantries, currency exchanges and other public spaces.
Nathaly Valdivia Oberto-Besso, a biology and chemistry major at Dominican, told the university that the outreach was valuable, particularly on her path to pursuing a master’s degree in public health and epidemiology.
“I want to be a science detective, trying to figure out how diseases work and how to prevent them,” she explained in a statement Dominican released Aug. 16.
“I’ve had so many people in my family impacted by COVID. It was important to me to talk with people in my community to help them understand how to stay healthy,” she said.
They also reached out to their fellow Dominican students to persuade them to get vaccinated. At Dominican, vaccines are mandatory.
“Because they were within the community, they were more trusted,” Segal said.
In hard-hit communities like Maywood, she said, the program participants had to modify their outreach after getting feedback from residents.
“At the beginning, we thought this was going to be largely an accessibility issue,” she said. “But we found out that accessibility wasn’t really the issue — vaccine hesitancy was.”
Segal said Dominican students encountered a range of urban myths around the vaccine, including claims about its effect on fertility. Some people said they were hesitant to get vaccinated because they don’t know what’s in the shots.
“One of my students responded, ‘That’s funny, how do you know what’s in Advil?’ They had conversations that were really on the ground,” Segal said.
“You can stand there all you want and logic this, but you’ve got to go deeper and share why you believe what you believe — not just what you believe because you’re not going to get anywhere with that,” she said.