Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield on Monday announced “Vaccinate the Natural State,” a statewide initiative that aims to educate Arkansans about the benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine and encourage them to get it as soon as possible.
“Vaccines are marvels of medical science, but they cannot work unless enough of us do our part and accept them when it’s our turn,” Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross, said during Monday’s announcement at Heifer International in Little Rock. “As a company whose primary concern is the health, wellbeing and peace of mind of the members and communities we serve, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield has committed a substantial effort and resources to help keep people healthy and safe and hopefully bring the pandemic to a timely end. But we know we cannot do it alone.”
The health insurance company is collaborating with the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care (AFMC), Arkansas Minority Health Commission, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas Council, University of Arkansas For Medical Sciences and Walmart on this.
Set to launch in mid-March, the program has two primary focuses: business-to-business engagement and hyper-local community engagement.
Arkansas Blue Cross is partnering with the Arkansas State Chamber and AFMC to provide objective information and educational resources, video modules, communication toolkits and outreach to businesses, to guide them through the vaccine roll-out. The businesses will be able to access all that through a website, Barnett said.
He also said, “We believe employers have a crucial role to play in building confidence in vaccines and that they are eager to fill that role.”
Chambers of commerce across Arkansas will ask businesses to join the movement through the “Power Over Pandemic Pledge.” Randy Zook, president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, said, “Arkansas employers are ready to lead in encouraging their employees to take the vaccine … We know that nearly all employees consider their employer a trusted source of information, and it’s time to put that influence to good use.”
Then he shared the pledge, which reads:
- “As an Arkansas employer and business leader, I commit to helping fight COVID-19 and will do my part to end the pandemic. I pledge to:
- “Lead by example by receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as I am able;
- “Strongly encourage all medically eligible employees and others in my organization to receive a COVID-19 vaccine;
- “Provide the resources my associates need to make an informed decision in favor of being vaccinated; and
- “Make receiving a vaccine as easy as possible for those in my organization.
“We are all in this together and we must all work together to help end the pandemic.”
Through Arkansas Blue Cross’ work with the Arkansas Minority Health Commission, the NWA Council, UAMS and Walmart Inc., a public service and grassroots campaign will be launched to educate Arkansans on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine and encourage them to receive the vaccine when it is available to them. A particular emphasis will be placed on rural, underserved communities and those with health disparities.
Gerard Dehrmann, senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Walmart, said Arkansas is “far along” compared to other states “in terms of the great partnerships that have been identified and the work that will be done to ‘Vaccinate the Natural State.'”
In addition, the organizations will work toward getting vaccines to all communities.
“We know that the COVID-19 virus disproportionality affects people of color, and right now we have an opportunity to work together at the community level to address their needs, ensure that everyone receives the same services and provide services in the way these groups need them,” said ShaRhonda Love, executive director of the Arkansas Minority Health Commission. She also said her organization has gained the trust of the communities it serves and that is crucial to encouraging minority groups to get vaccinated, as many in those groups mistrust the health care system.
Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, medical director for immunizations at the Arkansas Department of Health, also spoke at Monday’s announcement. She said, “It is our hope that everyone who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine will make a well-informed decision about whether or not they will take it. By well-informed, I mean that they will have accurate information that is easy for people to understand and is relevant to their lives. The last thing we want is for people to base the decision about getting a vaccine on wrong information or something they have misunderstood and then regret it when it is too late.”
She added, “No one is safe from COVID-19 until we are all safe from COVID-19.”