June 22, 2021 – Healthy Savannah and YMCA of Coastal Georgia are holding “Listening Sessions” to seek input in developing a community-led training program on COVID-19 vaccine awareness and acceptance.

The first two of three planned sessions were held on June 9 and 10. Participants were asked to share their thoughts about vaccine acceptance.

“One of the attendees said, ‘I am taking the shot because I want to live.’ But, this was one of several differing viewpoints,” said Elsie Smalls, PhD, operations manager. “We are building the program from the inside out and must listen to the voices from our community in developing our approach. This is not top-down access. We must listen to their ideas and stories to be able to understand how to best promote acceptance of COVID-19 vaccinations.”

Generally, the participants said information about COVID-19 and flu vaccines could be more effective if it:

Appeals to people’s faith and desire to protect family and friends.Explicitly says that the vaccine is free.Explains the long-term health problems associated with COVID-19.Makes clear that the vaccines reduce, but cannot eliminate, the risk of getting sick.Enlists celebrity and sports spokespeople to appeal to younger adults.Demonstrates love and concern for their life and the overall health of the community.Shows statistics on the impact and/or long-term implications for the younger generation.Poses the question, “What if”… COVID-19 is real; it begins to surge again; the vaccine is safe and you do not take it, are you willing to take that chance with your life and the lives of your family members?Highlights those in the community who have lost loved ones and those with ongoing issues and concerns from contracting the virus.

“It was a very rich discussion,” said Nichele Hoskins, communication manager. “The groups shared their experiences with the COVID-19 vaccine and the experiences of family members and friends. We plan to use their valuable viewpoints to steer our work, and to keep the conversation going.”

The effort, funded by a supplemental grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is intended to broaden the initiatives of the current Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant to focus on COVID-19 vaccine education, awareness, and acceptance, particularly in Savannah’s Black and Hispanic communities.

A third event in the series is currently being developed. Anyone interested in learning more or participating should email elsie@healthySavannah.org. Registration for the free event is required as seating will be limited.

“We need to hear and understand questions and thoughts people have about the COVID-19 vaccine before we can offer information and engage their trust,” said Smalls. “This is a matter of access as well as an issue of trust, both of which have deep, systemic roots.”

Organizers will use the information from all three events to develop a think tank to train teams of trusted messengers who will then go out to speak to and learn from the community.

“Ultimately the goal is to develop community-acceptable approaches for improving vaccination availability, accessibility, and confidence,” said Paula Kreissler, executive director of Healthy Savannah. “We want to get people vaccinated but first, we need to address questions, myths and falsehoods.”

Healthy Savannah and the YMCA also have the long-range goal of using what they learn during this process to build trust in other areas funded by the CDC’s REACH grant areas of nutrition, physical activity and community/clinical linkages.


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