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Black barbershop owners hoping to answer questions, quell fears about COVID-19 vaccines

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MADISON (WKOW) -- In an effort to help keep their communities safe, barbershop owners around Madison are looking to become ambassadors for the COVID-19 vaccine.

"We have a powerful influence on our customers," Jeff Patterson, owner of JP Hair Design, said Wednesday. "If we can sit behind our chair and talk positive and give accurate and scientific information on the vaccine, our clients will follow what what we do. They believe in us."

27 News spoke with Patterson, fellow barbers Jason Boatright and Erin Hall and Aaron Perry about how community leaders are working to boost confidence in the vaccine. Boatright is the owner of B. Right Barbershop in Sun Prairie, and Hall owns Resilient Hair Design in Madison. Perry is the founder of Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association.

Boatright said he's seeing a lot of customers who are unsure of the vaccine because they haven't been able to get trustworthy information about its safety.

"Social media has got people with so many questions, but they don't know if that's truthful or not, and fear comes from not knowing the truth," he said.

So the three barbers are working to ensure they can be a source of information.

"Us as barbers, we have a responsibility to tell our clients the truth because they're going to follow what we say," Patterson said

Hall said this approach is likely to be more effective than other methods.

"The reality is that trust comes through people that look like us," he said. "It's a little bit easier to talk to ... one person at a time to convince people that, you know, maybe this is the right thing to do, and since the options are here, I'm going to take advantage of it."

Leading by example for vaccinations

Perry is the only one in the group who currently has an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine.

"I am counting down those days until I can get that first shot because to do nothing, it's not an option. It's just not an option," he said.

Patterson, Boatright and Hall all said they're eagerly awaiting when they can sign up for their first dose, too.

"When my name gets called to take the vaccine, I'm gonna take it," Boatright said. "I'm gonna take the vaccine because I think I got a better chance at prolonging my life rather than not taking it and getting COVID."

Boatright said he was initially skeptical about the vaccine until one of his customers' fathers died from COVID-19.

"It kind of made me think like, 'Well, you know, let's get serious about this,'" he said.

Hall said he's ready to get the vaccine because he wants to be an example that provides confidence for others.

"Once we’re receiving the shot ourselves, we can say that we were inoculated," he said. "We can say that we're still here and we're still good."

He said this messaging is important because he sees wide-scale vaccination as the only way back to normal life.

"If our society is going to be resilient, and we're going to bounce back, there's only one way to go," Hill said. "We've got to start getting these inoculations knocked out."

Playing a role in distribution

All four men said they don't think their role will stop at being messengers in the community.

"These guys have significant influence, and they could be really key to helping encourage people to get vaccinated," Perry said. "But the other part is location, location, location. Go where the people are at. Go where they're comfortable, where they trust, and where they respect."

Patterson said barbershops check all those boxes.

"Whoever's in charge of distributing the vaccines, please choose some of these barbershops because we will be able to get the vaccine in Black and brown people's arms," he said. "I would love for our shops to be a place for people to come and get a vaccination where they trust."

Hill said he thinks vaccine hesitancy will decrease as more doses are available and people see those they know getting vaccinated.

"When this starts rolling out in our communities a lot more, I think you're going to find that people are going to be lining up in line to get their shots more than they are going to stand out of line," he said.

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