Pastoral Conversations Support Vaccine Participation

By Sarah Dalby

Conversations support vaccine participation

Since the pandemic’s start, McKillop United, Lethbridge, has sought out ways to be a community hub of COVID life basics. This meant giving out thousands of volunteer-made cloth masks, having a team of enthusiastic volunteers safely deliver prescriptions and groceries to those unable to get out and producing special worship and music services to help with mental wellness. Our most recent community outreach initiative aims to help people book vaccines and spread awareness that vaccines are available.

In my role as senior pastoral care and community connection coordinator, I am in contact with many of the members of our congregation in the generation that has now qualified to receive a vaccine. Those in care homes have almost all received at least their first dose of vaccine as they were first in line according to the province’s roll-out. The mindsets of these people pre- and post-vaccine have gone through quite the evolution. In conversation with the seniors pre-vaccine, morale was very low and feelings of hopelessness at the thought of the new restrictions on their lifestyles never-ending grew intensely month after month. Post-vaccine, the thought of “the end being near” is a sentiment that is widely shared. After a year of being in the pandemic and feeling “stuck,” the vaccine has provided a source of pride for these people in a way symbolizing that “we made it!” Those not in care homes are responsible for booking their own vaccines, that’s where we come in. While only three people directly asked us to book appointments for them, others have booked appointments themselves or have someone assist them after our conversation.  A conversation that includes a gentle reminder that vaccines are available and effective can go a long way. Chief Medical Officer Dr Deena Hinshaw’s talks do not always permeate into our homes.

Not everyone that I’ve talked to has been excited about getting vaccinated.  Factors such as the booking process, standing in a line, waiting for months between doses, and still having to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status can make getting vaccinated seem unappealing. Social media has spread rumours about vaccine content and the alleged hidden motives of governments vaccinating their populations. Sadly, these messages have crept into the minds of some of our community members.

“Dose by dose, we are fighting back against this virus. The vaccine does not promise a return to pre-pandemic times but it does offer all of us a path forward. I am confident we will get there, even if it happens one conversation at a time.” — Sarah Dalby, McKillop United Church

What can we do about this? With any pastoral care task our first duty is to listen, listen contemplatively and wholly. Let the person explain why they are scared and what they have heard. Then, without passing judgement, pass along some facts. The vaccine does not guarantee immunity, but it has been proven to prevent hospitalization. These vaccines have gone through rigorous testing and have been approved by the same processes that prescriptions and every other vaccine we get are tested. Yes, there are many companies making vaccines, but any of the ones that have been approved are “worth” getting. Yes, masks will still have to be worn for the foreseeable future. Yes, getting vaccinated IS worth it.

Conversations may not be the determining factor in achieving a mass-vaccinated community, but they can be a factor. For some people in the vaccine-eligible age group, whether or not to get a vaccine has felt like the first choice they have gotten to make for themselves in over a year. It will be a slow process but dose by dose we are fighting back against this virus. The vaccine does not promise any of us a return to pre-pandemic life, but it does offer all of us a path forward. I am confident we will get there, even if it happens one conversation at a time.