CO-mmunity Corps Blog Series: Developing Multi-Language, Culturally Responsive COVID-19 Vaccine Messaging Resources for Refugee and Immigrant Communities

June 30, 2021

By Amy Bell

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of rapid health communications, especially as protocols change quickly as new information unfolds. During the pandemic, this has proved especially challenging for public health in keeping non-English speakers up to date with the latest information.

Dr. Lisa Diamond recently published a paper titled, “Providing Equitable Care to Patients with Limited Dominant Language Proficiency Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Dr. Diamond writes, “We know from years of research that patients with Limited English Proficiency experience disparities in timely receipt of public health messaging, understanding of important health information, and access to insurance and health care.”

As an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Immunize Colorado in Aurora, Colorado, I wanted to create a project that addressed these language barriers and helped get these communities access to the COVID-19 Vaccine. 

Through conversations with program leads of existing projects in the Denver Metro area, I identified that while there was information on the COVID-19 vaccine being distributed in multiple languages and various formats, very few video projects existed to actually connect patients to care, or help them sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine. 

While designing this project intervention, I pulled from the lessons learned from many existing health communications videos that are aimed at refugee and immigrant communities. One helpful resource was the National Resource Center for Refugees, Immigrants, and Migrants (NRC-RIM). They have put together a Communications Toolkit that also lists a lot of promising practices and examples from across the US. I have listed several of their suggested approaches below; the tactics I pulled from for my intervention are bolded:

  1. Community Contractors for Health Messaging
  2. Community Testimonials for Health Messaging
  3. Facebook Videos to Engage Communities
  4. Community Movie Night + Information Exchange
  5. Cultural Navigators to Liaise Between Communities and Public Health
  6. WhatsApp to Reach and Engage Communities
  7. Community-Led Hotlines
  8. COVID Champions: Trusted Faith Leaders
  9. Culturally Specific Vaccine Information Broadcasts
  10. Multilingual COVID-19 Vaccine Education Workshops
  11. Initiating the COVID-19 Vaccine Conversation through Flyers
  12. Phone Trees to Facilitate Vaccine Access
  13. Using Storytelling to Increase Vaccine Confidence

I decided to partner directly with Denver Health, a federally qualified health center dedicated principally to serving Denver’s Medicaid and uninsured communities. Immunize Colorado partners closely with Denver Health on many initiatives and has experienced great success with supporting care navigators in reaching out to their communities with language-specific health messaging and connecting patients to care.

I worked with Dr. Janine Young, Medical Director of the Denver Health Refugee Clinic, and Dr. Kristi Rodriguez, the Medical Director of the Non-English Non-Spanish Navigation Program at Denver Health, to determine which languages are most spoken by the patients they see. I also worked with Betsy Ruckard, who leads the Non-English Non-Spanish Navigation Team at Denver Health. Working with Betsy, the care navigators, and other Denver Health staff, we created a script that informed patients on how to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine at Denver Health, and what to expect at their vaccine appointment. 

Father Joseph Dang Son Tung, a Community Navigator, shares information in Vietnamese on getting the COVID-19 vaccine at Denver Health.

It was important to co-create this script with the care navigators, instead of just having them translate the message we thought would work for their communities. We based our information off of what the Care Navigators had been hearing from their communities, as well as what we had learned from community listening sessions through the Colorado Vaccine Equity Taskforce and the Colorado Refugee and Immigrant Immunization Taskforce. The final product was 10 videos in 10 different languages, delivered by Denver Health care navigators and other trusted community leaders that answer vaccine questions and discuss topics of greatest concern to their specific communities; the videos also show community members how to sign up for a vaccine appointment at Denver Health. The videos are (or will soon be) available in Arabic, Amharic, Burmese, French, Karen, Maay Maay, Nepali, Somali, Swahili, and Vietnamese.

During my project evaluation, I was able to get feedback from the care navigators to see if there was anything that could be improved on for future similar projects. One of their quotes stood out to me: “This kind of project should be the first thing to do in the pandemic. It does clarify the COVID-19 vaccine to these communities.” Another community leader, Father Joseph Dang, says that he airs his Vietnamese video repeatedly on his community live talk show. 

The videos are currently available to view and share on the Colorado Vaccine Equity Taskforce YouTube channel. So far, the videos have had over 200 views in their first two weeks of being released. We hope community partners will help us share these with your networks, especially via social media or WhatsApp, so that all communities in Colorado – regardless of language spoken – will be able to successfully, confidently access lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines. 

For questions about this project, please contact ICOffice@childrenscolorado.org.

Amy Bell is an Immunization and Outreach & Education Coordinator, on assignment with Immunize Colorado through the CO-mmunity Corps AmeriCorps VISTA program.

Immunize Colorado