SPOTLIGHT | May 03, 2021

Traditional Communication Tools Help Communities Access COVID-19 Vaccines

Left: Robin Moore with the Housing Authority of Birmingham District Section 3 Program works to distribute door hangers alongside the Alabama CEAL team. Right: Kyrel Buchanan, Ph.D., M.P.H., executive director of Connection Health, pitches a yard sign near a road.

Door hangers, paper flyers, yard signs, and public service announcements might seem like old-fashioned ways of communicating. But these traditional communication tools have been vital to addressing vaccine access in Alabama communities.

As important: The idea for using these tools came in large part from the communities themselves – they prefer and trust old-school methods.

Mona Fouad, M.D., M.P.H., lead investigator of the CEAL Alabama team, said when she and her colleagues asked African American and Hispanic/Latino residents from Birmingham and surrounding counties to participate in focus groups about COVID-19, they eagerly shared their thoughts.

“A major theme was that residents wanted a more unified, clear message about vaccination,” Fouad said. “And they wanted that message to not only come from trusted sources in the community, but in a format that they could have in hand.”

That feedback led the Alabama CEAL team to develop the “Be Informed” public health awareness education campaign, with messaging in both English and Spanish. The campaign relies not just on social media, but leans heavily on old, tried-and-true forms of communication. It also taps trusted messengers like Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 in 2020.

"Let’s work together to make sure everyone knows about the vaccine and registers to get one."

Randall Woodfin

Mayor of Birmingham

“I had COVID-19 and know how dangerous it can be,” reads a flyer quoting the mayor. “Let’s work together to make sure everyone knows about the vaccine and registers to get one.”

The flyer also addresses common myths, spells out which groups are eligible for vaccines, and encourages everyone to sign up so they can know where to go and who to call if they have problems getting a vaccine. Other flyers targeting the Hispanic/Latino community address lower literacy levels by adding more infographics, simplifying text, and including messaging that’s to the point.

And by putting the information on neighborhood billboards and yard signs, broadcasting it on local radio, and posting vaccine availability updates on social media feeds and websites, organizers are making sure nobody misses what they need to make informed decisions.

But getting the word out, it turned out, has not been enough. The CEAL team has also pushed to make sure residents have equitable access to the vaccine – in part by working with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Medicine. The medical center is a big distributor of the vaccine, but it initially planned to administer the vaccine only from traditional clinical sites. Through collaboration, UAB Medicine helped establish two vaccination sites in African American neighborhoods.

Now communities that are hotspots for COVID-19 have neighborhood vaccination clinics. That way, people who typically do not travel much beyond their neighborhoods won’t have to drive across town to get vaccinated, said Tiffany Osborne, a member of the CEAL Alabama team and director of community engagement at UAB’s Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center. They instead may get a door hanger that tells them the nearest place to go, which may be just blocks away.

“You might think that these are outdated modes of communication, but our communities rely on these ways,” Osborne said, “which is why so many of our efforts have been successful.”

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