The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been operating Mobile Vaccination Units (MVUs) in the state of Maryland since April. Their goal is to go where the shots are needed.
Their efforts have been supported by more than 50 Peace Corps volunteers who have partnered with FEMA.
Johnathan Cantres, a Peace Corps volunteer, said getting people to overcome vaccine hesitancy is sometimes about being able to relate to them. He recounted a story about a man who had just come from Colombia. He said the man was nervous until Cantres went up to him and spoke Spanish.
“His eyes just brightened,” Cantres said. “He called me his guardian angel.”
Cantres said he believes some of the hesitancy comes from misinformation.
“I always have a lot of people asking me, ‘Are you going to get chips implanted?'” he said, referring to a common conspiracy theory surrounding vaccines.
To counter this, Cantres said he tries to give people resources where they can get additional information.
Timothy Pheil, deputy federal coordinating officer for Maryland, said they are also focused on equity.
“We’re focused on traditionally underserved communities and populations that need the opportunity for us to come and provide those vaccines to them,” he said.
Pheil said he was touched when he heard an elderly woman explain why she had decided to get vaccinated.
“She was absolutely in tears because her reason for being vaccinated was so that she could hug her grandchildren again, and that just resonated so deeply in me that I remember that, and I will carry that with me as one of those great stories,” Pheil said, choking up as he remembered her story.
The acting director of Peace Corps Carol Spahn also highlighted the importance of connecting with an individual as a way for them to overcome their hesitancy.
“Getting people over their vaccine hesitancy is about connecting with them as individuals and listening and really hearing what their concerns are,” Spahn said.