Breaking down barriers to COVID-19 vaccine information
COVID-19 has often been dubbed The Great Divider. Shining a light on long-standing inequities within our communities, the pandemic not only impacted those in greatest need, but access to trusted vaccination information and mass COVID-19 immunization clinics was out of reach for many. Fueled by the knowledge that vaccinations were critical in stopping the spread of the virus and preventing deaths, Women’s College Hospital embarked on a mission to bring barriers down…and quickly.
Education and access to COVID-19 vaccinations is not a one-size fits all approach. Internet access, language, location of clinics, and availability of transportation and childcare are just a few of the obstacles people faced. To reach those in greatest need and vaccinate as many people as possible, we worked with our vast network of partners including Unison Health and Community Services and the Mid-West Toronto Ontario Heath Team to build trust and knowledge to ultimately get vaccines in arms. To do this successfully, the first step was overcoming hesitancy through education.
“Vaccine education was tailored to each specific site where Women’s supported vaccine provision,” says Vanessa Wright, nurse practitioner at Women’s College Hospital Crossroads Clinic. “In some shelters where we provided primary care, we offered group vaccine information sessions over a period of four weeks leading up to the vaccine clinics, using multi-lingual handouts to support the discussion. In other settings, vaccine information sharing was provided through webinars and in-person door-to-door visits, both in advance of the vaccine clinic and the day-of.”
To further drive vaccination rates and bridge existing language barriers, Crossroads, in partnership with Refugee 613, TAIBU Community Health Centre and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), created a series of informational bulletins in 11 languages. Covering a wide range of topics about vaccine development and testing, youth vaccination and the differences between vaccine brands, the goal was to inspire vaccine confidence among immigrants, refugees, and non-English speaking groups.
Parallel to this initiative, Women’s connected with multi-language media outlets to reach non-English speaking communities. Working with experts we created multi-language informational videos and translated English-based vaccine materials on a rolling basis to ensure linguistic and cultural inclusivity.
“Many new immigrants are unable to access COVID-19 vaccine messaging through traditional sources of media that require English competency. Providing high-quality vaccine information in different languages is critical in reaching non-English speaking communities and helps to develop trust in newcomer communities,” said Meb Rashid, medical director at Crossroads Clinic.
The Centre for Wise Practices in Indigenous Health (CWP-IH) at Women’s College Hospital recognized that there would be barriers to the uptake of COVID -19 vaccinations for numerous complex and context-specific reasons amongst Indigenous community members. This was compounded by the lack of culturally safe and relevant educational materials about vaccination. In partnership with the Indigenous Primary Health Care Council (IPHCC), Anishnawbe Health Toronto, The Indigenous Health Program at University Health Network and Shkaabe Makwa (CAMH), CWP-IH launched Maad’ookiing Mshkiki – Sharing Medicine virtual hub with the aim of unpacking biomedicine, traditional knowledges and healing practices though oral storytelling and visualizations to support First Nations, Inuit and Métis in making informed choices about the COVID-19 vaccine. (read Knowledge is Medicine. Love is Medicine. Storytelling is Medicine. for the full story)
Beyond educating individuals about vaccines, we had to educate healthcare providers about the concerns individuals would have at our vaccination clinics. To create a culture of safety to support COVID-19 community outreach, our approach had to be informed by the diverse communities we were trying to reach. A COVID-19 Equity Advisory Group was formed to identify and remove barriers at Women’s College Hospital-run vaccine clinics.
“The Equity Advisory Group strategized, collaborated, and mobilized to ensure that equity was integrated at every level of the vaccine roll out, including design, staff training, outreach, and implementation,” explains Mina Kazemi, project manager for the COVID-19 Equity Advisory Group. “We co-created training tools and processes to ensure a safer, more accessible and equitable experience. Using an equity lens, our vaccine clinics worked to re-build trust and promote health and wellbeing among those hardest hit by the pandemic.”
Over the last year, Women’s built up vaccine confidence and tore down barriers. The organization prioritized vaccine education that was accessible, inclusive, and multi-lingual to minimize vaccine hesitancy among communities who are too often overlooked and underserved. Everyone deserves a fair shot at getting protected against COVID-19. Thanks to a collaborative, equitable and inclusive approach, Women’s administered over 125,000 vaccines to help curb the spread COVID-19.
19 to Zero
To shift public perceptions around COVID-19 and reduce vaccine hesitancy, Women’s College Hospital joined 19 to Zero, a 500+ member group of experts committed to building vaccine confidence and getting Canadians vaccinated.
“We want to reach people where they are at, and we need to help turn trusted healthcare practitioners into effective vaccine advocates,” explains Dr. Noah Ivers, WCH clinician scientist and medical lead with 19 to Zero. “Research consistently demonstrates the importance of trusted community members in driving vaccine confidence.”
In support of this, 19 to Zero has launched public health campaigns, produced and disseminated tailored resources, translated fact sheets, developed toolkits and led community and corporate Town Halls. This coalition is committed to supporting healthcare workers get educated and vaccinated, so they can become effective vaccine advocates.