Hayes, Bysiewicz enlist WCSU students to be 'carriers of the facts' to those without COVID vaccine

Photo of Rob Ryser

DANBURY — A discussion between U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5, and local college students Friday about boosting the COVID-19 vaccination rate from 60 percent to the herd immunity promised land of 80 percent centered on respecting people’s right to make their own decision.

“There are people with various concerns, for whatever reason, about whether it’s safe, so we have to acknowledge that there is some validity in those concerns and try to get as good information as we can out to those people,” Hayes told a crowd of 40 students and staff at Western Connecticut State University. “It is a very personal decision, and everybody has the right to make that decision for themselves, but it should be made with good information, not Tik Tok.”

Graduate nursing student Melissa Moreira said her experience working on a hospital COVID-19 ward made her decision to get vaccinated easy.

“We can respect that people have fear about (vaccine safety) but I guarantee you, COVID is more scary,” Moreira said. “It really is our moral duty for everyone to get on board with this for herd immunity.”

The hourlong discussion, which was led by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, focused on friends and family who have resisted getting the vaccine — which is free, and credited with slowing COVID’s spread to the point that some Connecticut schools plan to open in-person in the fall.

“We all have the power to put COVID in the rearview mirror, and no one has to die,” Bysiewicz said. “[T]he most powerful influence on people to get vaccinated is to hear from friends and family, and health care providers about the benefits.”

Nursing student Rodney Robertson said trust was an obstacle.

“I find the difficulty that many of the young people have — and all age groups have — is there is some hesitancy ... as though the vaccine is not trusted, for whatever reason,” Robertson said. “What we can do to combat that is to provide more education, to provide reassurance … that they would be protecting those people that are in their families and in their friendships.”

Hayes said for communities of color, mistrust of the health care system can be justified.

“You don’t know how many times I’ve heard people bring up the Tuskegee experiments,” said Hayes, referring to a federal government syphilis study that allowed 200 Black men from Alabama to go untreated. “So much has changed in research, in the delivery of services and in the health care professions ... to make sure nothing like that happens again. So it is one of those things that you acknowledge and say, ‘Yes, I understand that this might be a cause for concern, but here are all the things that have been done to prevent that.’”

Hayes told the students that at some point soon, America has to have the larger conversation about the “huge disparity in minority communities in access and affordability of health care.”

“It is not an accident that minority communities were hit the hardest by this pandemic, because there are already so many comorbidities that exist in those communities — things like diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, hypertension and all of those things that are the result of lack of access to health care, lack of affordability, unstable housing conditions and nutrition deficits,” Hayes said. “For a lot of people, this isn’t just a conversation about vaccines.”

Ambrose Richards a WestConn junior studying justice and law administration, said his personal decision to get vaccinated when friends were deciding against it came down to health-impaired members of his family, who he might expose to the virus if he was not inoculated.

“I’m not just doing this for me,” he said.

Hayes agreed.

“With a 93 percent (vaccine) effectiveness rate there are going to be anecdotal arguments against it,” Hayes said. “But this will help the majority of the people not just in your family and in your community but in your country, so this is one of those times where you are your brother’s keeper.”

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342