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St. Louis health director using trust and information to encourage vaccinations

“I don't want to coerce people by using gimmicks,” St. Louis Acting Health Director Dr. Frederick Echols said

ST. LOUIS — Incentives are good but shouldn’t be a factor when deciding to get the COVID-19 vaccine according to the St. Louis Acting Health Director Dr. Frederick Echols.

Echols said around 31% of the city is fully vaccinated. Herd immunity is 70%. St. Louis vaccination efforts are behind St. Louis County, state and national averages.

“Our job is to give accurate information,” Echols said. “There’s still a lot of inaccurate information (out there). We have to dispel these myths. We have to go above and beyond to share their concerns and education.”

Echols is pushing information and the long-term benefits of the shot for individuals and the community.

“I don't want to coerce people by using gimmicks to make them get vaccine,” Echols said. “We really want them to make best decision for them and the only way to do that is to make sure they understand the vaccine.”

Echols also believes addressing the history of medical malpractice and abuse in minority communities is important to building trust.

“We think about the Tuskegee experiment, Henrietta Lacks, we have to be mindful,” Echols said. “(We) can't expect people to just receive whatever product were giving out just because we're giving it out. We fail to address history, we could cause more trauma.”

Dr. Melissa Tepe said one-on-one conversations build generational health relationships.

“Patients come to us very vulnerable for many different reasons,” the vice-president said. “When we are vulnerable we need to be able to trust the person on the other side of the table.”

Tepe said it’s important to make sure people from minority communities have paths to begin doctors, nurses and other jobs in the healthcare field. Tepe hopes more diversity in the field will generate more trust throughout the community.