COVID-19   Crisis

Engaging Communities to Address Vaccine Hesitancy

March 22, 2021

In our recent work with the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), we’ve partnered with over 47 community based organizations and media outlets that work with special populations who may experience barriers to information and care. These are typically people from communities of color, those living with disabilities and others. The goal is to share information about COVID-19 prevention behaviors, as well as accurate information about vaccination.

We’ve forged partnerships across the state to help meet audiences where they are with culturally appreciative and accessible COVID-19 and vaccination information. This work is being done through a lens of “Nothing about me without me” — emphasizing the need to empower members of those communities to address their specific needs, barriers and priorities.

So how do we approach a project this big — especially when working toward reaching very specific audience groups? Luckily, our agency experts, Mallory Peak, PhD, VP of Social Change Marketing and Shireen Khinda, Account Director, were willing to share their secrets.

What is the most important thing to consider when sharing messages with special populations?

Mallory: That “special populations” is actually a lot of people! We tend to think in terms of minority/majority, but when you stop to consider the barriers that many people are facing – everything from language to navigating the internet with screen readers – that impacts a large part of your audience.

Shireen: Exactly. Even when we are talking about “special populations” and grouping whole communities together, we have to remember they are comprised of really different communities and real people with unique preferences and needs. We’re grouping to identify commonalities, but the tactics and strategies that we, and trusted message carriers, develop and implement must be culturally relevant and thoughtful.

What unique approach is DH taking when sharing messages and partnering with organizations who reach these populations?

Shireen: We are relying on trusted voices and leaders in communities to help reach those with barriers to accessing critical information. Instead of a top-down approach where we are telling these message carriers and partners what the communities need, a lot of our work is in listening and building relationships with these communities, because together we can make a greater positive impact.
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Mallory: And really treating this work as a partnership and providing support that meets a community’s specific needs, that they themselves identify. It sounds simple enough, but it’s radical! And at times uncomfortable. Especially for organizations used to having a lot of control over how information is developed and communicated. We’re challenging those power structures. It’s important to remember there are real, historically grounded reasons for vaccine hesitancy and distrust of public health institutions among some of these populations — any successful communication effort needs to hear and acknowledge those unique concerns before introducing new messaging about safety and efficacy.

What collaborative strategies has the DH team deployed in partnership with DOH to reach special communities?

Shireen: We’ve been engaging community-based media outlets and trusted messengers across Washington to reach minority populations disproportionately and inequitably impacted by COVID-19. We’re working with these community leaders to identify strategies and tactics they feel would resonate most with their communities. Then we’re providing them with funding via DOH to develop these culturally relevant COVID-19 prevention and vaccine messages and launch their programs. Through this effort, we’ve been able to build relationships with partners throughout the state and help spotlight their organizations’ work and the positive impact they’ve been having on communities.
Mallory: Being able to have one-on-one conversations with different media outlets, organizations and community members has been really important. It helps us understand their needs and work together to identify opportunities to connect with their community in new ways. It’s how we would brainstorm within our own team on any project. We go into those conversations with the spirit of bringing their vision to life. We offer support, help remove roadblocks and have been able to bring organizations together around shared goals. That’s been the coolest part.
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So all in all, why is this work so important?

Mallory: We’ve had a lot of conversations at DH about the power to access quality, relevant information plays in health equity. It’s a direct one. How can you make decisions about care without information that is intelligible? Or even sparks as relevant to you in any way?

Shireen: Imagine if you didn’t have all the information you do now about COVID-19. Imagine if you didn’t know where to go for help, or didn’t know who to trust. What if you had questions and no place to get them answered —  in a different language, in a different format (other than digital), at a different pace? These are real barriers and experiences that our fellow Washingtonians are facing which make this work so incredibly important.

Now, more than ever we need to take care of each other and of those that may not have the same access to information they need to stay safe during this time. Creating more equitable access to health starts with us.

To learn more about our current work, or for COVID-19 communications support, send us a message and we’d be happy to help.

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