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Coronavirus

Despite Mandate, Scott Air Force Base Still Working To Convince Vaccine Holdouts

Master Sgt. Renee Cheatham, 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron aeromedical evacuation technician, receives one the first COVID-19 inoculations at Scott Air Force Base, in January. Even with the military's vaccination mandate, base leaders are engaging with the concerns some airmen may have with the vaccine instead of forcing shots.
Tech. Sgt. Jordan Castelan
/
U.S. Air Force
Master Sgt. Renee Cheatham, 375th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron aeromedical evacuation technician, receives one of the first COVID-19 inoculations at Scott Air Force Base in January. Even with the military's vaccination mandate, base leaders are engaging with the concerns some airmen may have with the vaccine instead of forcing shots.

Nearly a month after the U.S. military mandated all service members be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, officials at Scott Air Force Base are working to persuade holdouts to get the shot.

The reaction to the vaccine mandate for military personnel was largely positive on the base, said Maj. Misty Roomsburg, a nurse at Scott and a spokeswoman for its vaccination efforts. But she adds there are some airmen who remain hesitant.

“It is truly overwhelming, and we understand that,” Roomsburg said. “We want to make sure we’re getting these people the right information.”

Scott officials are mainly working to engage with the concerns airmen may have with the vaccine, rather than just force every member to get the shot, she said. The approach now comes after an examination of what was and wasn’t successful with previous mandates, like shots for anthrax, Roomsburg said.

“We have some with some fear, some with some apprehension and wanting to ask a lot of these questions to verify and clarify all the information before they make that jump to get the [coronavirus] vaccine,” she said.

They’re offering those on base many opportunities to meet with medical providers, chaplains and even town halls with senior medical personnel at Scott, Roomsburg said.

“Those late adopters are just wanting to get good information and make sure they’re making a sound decision,” she said. “They have different stories and information they’ve heard from their loved ones or their friends.”

Roomsburg added the majority of people at Scott have been vaccinated, something she attributes to the base having multiple four-star commands and other high-level leader. They were some of the first in the military to be vaccinated, and their experiences carry weight, she said.

Data compiled by the Illinois Department of Public Health shows 30% of the ZIP code for Scott, 62225, is fully vaccinated. But that number doesn’t represent the base’s vaccination rate because the state doesn’t track COVID-19 vaccines administered federally by the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs, a health department spokesperson said.

“We’ve hit a lot more people than our local area,” Roomsburg said, adding the base is in line with or slightly above the rest of the Department of Defense and national average. She said she was not able to discuss specific vaccination rates, citing guidance from the Department of Defense.

Nearly 60% of the Air Force was fully vaccinated as of Aug. 25, according to a Military Times article.

Local COVID trends

In recent weeks the Metro East has seen the number of positive coronavirus cases and hospitalizations decrease, but officials are still concerned.

“We’re still experiencing significant amounts of COVID in St. Clair County,” said Bryan Whitaker, the county’s emergency management agency assistant director, in a weekly briefing.

St. Clair County posted a seven-day rolling positivity average of 4.7%. The rate for Illinois Public Health Region Four, which includes the Metro East, was 5.5%. Those numbers are down significantly from a month ago, when the rate for the region was 8.8%.

“The delta variant is still the predominant variant being reported to the St. Clair County health department,” said Myla Blandford, who directs the department.

She said the department will make specific decisions regarding booster shots in the coming days, now that the Food and Drug Administration has endorsed them for people over 65 and those in high-risk settings.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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