The COVID-19 vaccine rate has plateaued. In Danbury, nurses are focused on ‘one-on-one’ education

Photo of Julia Perkins

DANBURY — Luana Aguiar and her mom wanted to get their COVID-19 vaccines this week.

They hadn’t yet because Aguiar had a baby two weeks ago and her mom just arrived in Danbury from Brazil last Friday. They didn’t expect to get their shots at the grocery store.

“It’s very convenient,” Aguiar said Tuesday after getting her first dose outside of the CTown Supermarket on North Street in Danbury.

Her mom was grateful.

“Mucho feliz,” said Luizette Aguiar, placing her hands together as if in prayer. That translates to “very happy” in Portuguese.

More Information

Percentage of Danbury residents with at least one dose

38.75 percent on 4/21

43.4 percent on 4/28

46.4 percent on 5/5

49.06 percent on 5/12

51.7 percent on 5/19

54.58 percent on 5/26

56.13 percent on 6/2

57.58 percent on 6/9

58.87 percent on 6/16

They were two of 11 people to get their shots on Tuesday during the about four-hour clinic run by RVNAhealth. But nurses there talked to others who they think may have been convinced to get the vaccine when the clinic returns next Tuesday or at another pop-up session in the community.

As the COVID-19 vaccination rate has slowed across the nation and state, health care workers no longer expect large waves of people to get the shot and are instead turning to convincing people one at a time. In Danbury the number of residents who received at least one dose has slowed, increasing from 57.48 percent on June 6 to 58.87 percent on June 16.

“If you change one person’s mind, I’m happy with it,” said Fernanda Araujo, a licensed practical nurse with RVNAhealth.

“I think these efforts keep the numbers from dipping too much lower,” added Laura Shulman Cordeira, director of community health and wellness for RVNAhealth.

She’s referring to the partnerships between RVNAhealth, Danbury’s health department and other organizations to make vaccines easier to get and to better educate people reluctant to get their shots.

This week’s clinic is part of this effort and is paid funded through a $970,000 grant Danbury’s health department received to work with partners on vaccine equity.

The goal is to eliminate barriers, such as access to a computer, transportation, child care, work challenges and language differences, that may have prevented people from getting vaccinated, Cordeira said.

One woman who got vaccinated Tuesday said she had struggled to make an appointment initially and then couldn’t get time off from work.

Cordeira said it’s a misconception that everyone who wants the vaccine has gotten it.

“We’re showing up in places and the people are still coming out and getting vaccines,” she said. “They’re saying, ‘I wanted to do this and didn’t know how.’”

Bringing vaccines to the people

The organization initially held formal education sessions, but now nurses focus on addressing specific concerns and questions with the people in front of them, while simultaneously providing the vaccine.

“It’s more of a one-on-one,” Cordeira said.

Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut canvasses over the phone, while city health department and Connecticut Institute for Communities talk to people on the streets, she said.

Nurses emphasize that the vaccines are effective, free and that patients don’t need identification or health insurance to get them — common misconceptions.

Officials have studied the ZIP codes with the lowest vaccination rates and are scheduling pop-up clinics in neighborhoods where they’re needed most, Cordeira said. That way they’re easy to walk to and in places — like a street festival or grocery store — where people are already going to, she said.

Clinics and education sessions will be held Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon at the farmers market at the Danbury Railway Museum.

Churches have been one of the most successful locations because it’s a trusted institution, officials said.

“The pastor has a big role,” said Araujo, who has had many churches reach out to her about clinics. At one clinic, 100 people showed up when the organization expected 20.

Focus on education

The booth at CTown was near the entrance to the store, with a purple tent protecting nurses and patients from the intermittent rain.

Nurses approach people, ask if they’ve been vaccinated and for them to spread the word about the clinics, said Jackie Felix, a licensed practical nurse with RVNAHealth. They’re scheduled to be CTown from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Tuesday through the end of August. Patients may later get second doses at the clinic.

Word of mouth has helped attract more people, and the public now expects them to be there, Felix said.

“You talk to a lot of people,” she said. “If they don’t get the vaccine, they’re thinking about it and they know you’ll be back.”

One customer tried to encourage people toward the booth and later returned to cheer for a woman getting her shot.

The nurses explain how the vaccine works and debunk misconceptions to “build confidence” in its effectiveness, Felix said.

“A lot of people say they wanted to wait and see how people were affected by it,” she said.

Felix speaks Spanish and English, while Araujo speaks Spanish, Portuguese and English. Patients feel more comfortable talking to the nurses in their native language, Araujo said.

Patients may choose their vaccine type. On Tuesday, nurses brought 18 doses of Moderna, 10 shots of Pfizer and five of Johnson & Johnson.

Alongside their vaccine cards, patients received hand sanitizer and reusable grocery bags that said “I got my COVID-19 vaccine” in three languages. Crayons were available for kids.

Gift cards to restaurants have been distributed, too, Cordeira said. At some Saturday clinics, patients have received 34 pounds of donated food, Felix said.

The nurses said they recognize they won’t get everyone. Felix said she’s learned not to approach one man, who has said Jesus “protects” him when she’s talked to him about the vaccine.

“We’re not here to change people’s minds or convert them if they don’t feel strongly about having a vaccine,” Cordeira said. “That’s okay. We’re here to provide education and information and allow people to make an informed decision on their own.”

However, one woman who Felix spoke with a previous week returned on Tuesday to get her shot.

“It has been effective,” Felix said.

The group hopes to use similar methods for future flu clinics, Araujo said.

“This is just the beginning,” she said.