Behind the effort to get Dane County residents vaccinated

Vaccines have arrived in Dane County and distribution is underway. But varying needs within vulnerable communities are raising some complex questions.

By Holly Marley-Henschen, Madison Magazine

As the pandemic grinds on, there’s still so much we fear and don’t know about the coronavirus. Information, when it becomes available, isn’t always complete and rarely satisfies our desire to understand. When the news media announced vaccines were on the way last fall, that need for knowledge only grew — with apprehension for some, intense desperation for others. A whirlwind of information and misinformation — circulated by sources ranging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to strangers on social media — has bred confusion during an unprecedented time.

“The whole situation has been heavily politicized because [of] the pandemic unfolding in the middle of [an] extremely polarizing and controversial election time,” says Dominique Brossard, an expert in risk communication and professor and chair of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. At times, former President Donald Trump’s pandemic response team and federal, state and community health officials offered inconsistent and sometimes conflicting messages. “At the end of the day, when you want to have good public health communication, what you want to have is consistent, trustworthy and credible information that comes from all sources,” Brossard says. In the United States, Brossard notes, trust in local public health officials has generally been strong during the pandemic and remains so.

But what has also become clear as local officials work to educate and vaccinate nearly 550,000 Dane County residents is that disparities and distrust among some groups existed long before the coronavirus. Different populations, including the Hmong, Black, Latinx, Southeast Asian and Indigenous communities, have divergent needs, as do aging adults and people experiencing homelessness. Read more …