BERKELEY, Mo. — Charlotta Brooks had gone to four funerals in the past three weeks for loved ones who died from COVID-19. She lost her 81-year-old grandma as well as two cousins and her son's godmother, all in their 40s.
"Right around my age," said Brooks, 43.
Last Wednesday, Brooks walked four blocks from her home in Berkeley to the walk-in vaccination clinic at the John C. Murphy Health Center, headquarters for the St. Louis County Department of Health, and got her first dose.
She had been afraid to get the vaccine, having heard claims it was risky and that she could end up in an emergency room. But after seeing family members sickened from COVID-19, she sought information from her church leaders and friends who work in nursing homes and dentist offices. They encouraged her.
"If they got it, I should go ahead and get it, too, to prevent getting COVID-19 or giving it to someone else," Brooks said.
Convincing people to get vaccinated has proven a challenge for public health and hospital leaders, even as Missouri became an epicenter for the spread of the infectious delta variant now taking hold in the U.S. Despite rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, vaccination rates remained stagnant, state data shows. Just 47% of Missourians have initiated vaccination.
Health officials are trying everything they can to change the course: mobile vaccination teams, free rides to clinics, virtual question-and-answer sessions, enlisting residents to share their vaccine stories and making shots available at baseball games, churches, libraries, breweries and job fairs.
Last Wednesday, Gov. Mike Parson's administration launched an incentive program that will award prizes of $10,000 to 900 people who received the shot.
The scattershot approach shows the challenge in overcoming the various reasons why people have not yet gotten vaccinated.
"It's the only way forward. We have to meet people where they are," said Christopher Ave, county health department spokesman. "It takes supreme effort."