People using the laundromat in Red Springs, North Carolina, were feeding quarters into machines and folding clothes one Tuesday afternoon this spring, when LaTasha Murray burst through the door.
“I was like, ‘Hey, is there anybody here who has not had the vaccine who wants a vaccine, or has questions about the vaccine?'” she recalled, laughing.
Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak
Murray is not a doctor, but she works in health care as the marketing director for Robeson Health Care Corp. The organization generally serves lower-income and historically marginalized communities, including her home of Red Springs.
It’s a community that’s been hit hard by Covid-19. Murray can count at least 18 family members or close friends who have died from the virus.
“This became very personal for me,” she said. She’s made it her mission to raise awareness about the vaccine among her neighbors, “to make sure that they’re basing their decision as to whether they were going to get vaccinated on facts, and not fiction.”
Now, wherever Murray goes — Walmart, the post office, the laundromat — she brings up the vaccine.
“You literally cannot have a conversation with me without me talking about it,” she said. “I was going to get a T-shirt that said ‘vaccine hustler.'”
It’s personal, emotional connections like Murray’s that are proving to be a driving force of vaccinations in many communities. While some are worried about conspiracy theories, many others simply have questions about the shots. How were they made? How were they developed so quickly? Will the shots hurt?
Hearing the answers from a trusted source who has the patience and time to address any concerns pays dividends.
One man who was at the laundromat when Murray arrived said he wanted to get vaccinated, but was scared.
“I said, ‘What are you scared of?’ We talked, and by the time I finished talking to him, he said, ‘OK, I’m ready.'”
Murray, who had heard the nearby clinic had leftover doses that needed to be used that day, took the man immediately to get the vaccination.
He had to rush back once the shot was administered; he’d left his clothes in the washer.
One shot at a time
The Covid-19 vaccines that are used in the United States have been shown to be safe and effective — preventing infections by more than 90 percent.
Even so, more than 40 percent of adults in the U.S. haven’t received their first shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That leaves millions of Americans vulnerable to Covid-19, many of whom still have questions about how well the vaccines work, and whether the shots could do more harm than good.
These are reasonable questions that should be met with openness and honesty, said Brian Castrucci, president and chief operating officer of the de Beaumont Foundation, a public health nonprofit. He has studied how to communicate effectively with patients.
“You lead with the most important sentences ever uttered,” he said. That is: “I understand you have concerns, what questions can I answer for you?”
Taking the time to answer questions can be essential even after people have signed up, and indeed shown up, for their vaccination appointment.
Tyreene Jeter, a pharmacist who administers Covid-19 vaccinations in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, says she can easily recognize the individuals who are frightened, unsure or simply full of nervous energy about getting the Covid-19 vaccination.
“They’re sweating before they even get to my seat,” she said. “They just start flipping out.”
Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak
Some are worried the shot will hurt. Many are afraid of needles. Others have heard vaccine conspiracy theories that, even though they know are untrue, remain haunting.
But Jeter works to ease people’s anxiety, no matter the cause.
“I’m not here to ‘jab and move’,” she tells them. “Talk to me,” she says. “I’m here to help.” She sits with people as long as they need to get all of their questions answered.
“By the time I’m done with them, they’re like, ‘Can I come to you for the second shot?’ And I’m like, ‘Absolutely!'”
“I took someone’s honest-to-goodness fear, trauma and phobias, literally turned it around in one session,” Jeter said. “I feel like a superhero.”
Even though it takes time to answer questions and talk through concerns, both Jeter and Murray have discovered this is the best way to ease people into vaccinations, one person at a time.
Murray’s calming presence has played a major role in her community members who call her day and night, asking her to go with them to their appointment and hold their hand.
“‘Are you gonna meet me there?’ they ask, Murray said, always answering, without fail, “Yep, I’ll be there. I’m on my way.”
Follow NBC HEALTH on Twitter & Facebook.