Take a few moments and consider the people who are in your community. Who do you trust for advice when you have questions? What factors into who you consider a credible source of information? Who are the trusted voices other people turn to?
Chances are, in rural America at least, many of those trusted voices in our communities are farmers and ranchers. When I reflect on the people who others go to for advice, it’s often the long-time community members who are business owners, leaders involved in organizations, and those who show up at community events.
As was discussed in an earlier podcast episode regarding disinformation, the people who we look to as trusted advisors and resources for information can have a huge impact on how we perceive the world. This has been magnified during the COVID pandemic, even more so when it comes to the spread of misinformation.
I received the first dose of the COVID vaccine in March and my second dose in April as soon as the opportunity was available to agriculture workers in Colorado. Shortly after, I was approached by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to become even more involved in sharing accurate, science-based information with others in rural America. I’ve gladly been involved in the effort all summer to help contribute to the conversations.
CDPHE has helped to keep me informed on the latest information regarding COVID-19 and the vaccine programs so that I can share that information through my social channels. This has sparked several conversations and, unfortunately, several people have unfollowed me due to my being in support of the vaccination efforts.
At the same time, I’ve had many people come to me, often through private direct messages, asking questions and thanking me for sharing vaccine information they were not previously aware of. I’m proud to be an advocate for vaccines and have the opportunity to share this information in a time when so much fear and misinformation is leading to hesitancy on the vaccines.
Trusted Voices in Rural America
Last month, I was approached by a health reporter for NPR who was looking at the factors involved in vaccine hesitancy in rural America. My name came up in conversations due to my involvement in national organizations and by being involved in the vaccine conversations over the past year.
If anything, livestock farmers and ranchers should have at least a basic understanding of how vaccines work to protect health, seeing as they are commonly used as best management practices for our animals. We believe in, trust, and adjust our practices based on science.
It was great to discuss the topic with Christine Herman for the article, As Trusted Voices, Farmers Could Be Key To Boosting Rural Vaccination Rates, which ran nationally on NPR’s Weekend Edition. If you haven’t already, go read the article and share it with your friends and followers.
Hesitancy to be an Advocate
While I have many friends in agriculture and rural communities who are vaccinated, I know many people who are hesitant to receive their COVID vaccine. As I reflected on this, I thought about the peer pressure that exists in rural America not to speak up when your values do not align with those of conservative beliefs and politics.
I’ve definitely experienced pushback from others in rural communities when I try to discuss COVID-19 and vaccine topics. Often the arguments are political or repetition of disinformation in the form of doubts or concerns of unknowns. Similar to politics, immigration, mental health, or LGBTQ discussions, many people are hesitant to join the conversation and would rather choose to avoid the confrontation and potential isolation that could result from the disagreement.
Just as I would encourage people to avoid pushing facts on others in consumer advocacy conversations, I’ve found that sharing personal stories and just having the conversation works better when discussing COVID. Anytime we start telling people how wrong they are, the conversation begins to shut down.
No one conversation changes someone’s mind. However, normalizing the conversation can break down the barriers and hesitancy to talk about it.
No matter your position on COVID or vaccines, I encourage you to seek out the conversations. Don’t try to debate the facts or repeat stories you heard from somewhere else. Sometimes it’s best to just talk about your own experiences once in a while and see where that takes us. I feel like that’s how trusted voices become trusted in our rural communities.
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