Vaccine Champion Program combats misinformation

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A screen capture of FunTimes Magazine's website.

A screen capture of FunTimes Magazine's website.

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Children ages 5 to 11 can now have access to a pediatric dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. To help get information into the communities, the city of Philadelphia is arming trusted messengers with vital vaccine information. It’s called the Vaccine Champion Program and it’s organized by Philly Counts.

Imani Stewart-Jackson, digital engagement and communications manager for Philly Counts, and Dr. Ngozi Onuoha, a clinician and educator who is affiliated with FunTimes Magazine, spoke to WHYY afternoon drive host Cherri Gregg about an upcoming virtual training scheduled for Nov. 17, 2021 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

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Welcome, ladies. How are you doing? Good morning. So I want to start with you, Imani, you work with Philly Counts, an office that was originally set up to work with the 2020 Census, and you all have evolved and are now on the front lines battling misinformation about the vaccines.

Imani Stewart-Jackson [ISJ]: That is right. We were started in 2019 to help support the city with getting everyone counted in the 2020 Census. Right after that, we had the privilege of running Philadelphia’s 17 satellite election locations in the 2020 presidential election. And then right after that… the city, our community, our partners did not want that network of people and connections to die. So we took our Census Information Champion program and turned it to a vaccine information champion program. So we’ve been rolling ever since, and help supporting the health department and other various neighborhood organizations and just people in the community, like FunTimes, and get the word out about vaccines.

And so let’s talk about the strategy that Philly Counts used to put information in community, describe it. And why does it work?

ISJ: So, it works, honestly, because we are on the ground. The best way to describe our office is we’re connecting the community with city resources. So we are really in these communities, building circles of support, with their trust, with their elected officials, with organizations that are already doing important work in the neighborhood. So we’re just giving people — giving organizations that residents [already] know, like, and trust ​​— this information.

And so Dr. Onuoha, you have been out here doing some of the trainings, doing some of the education. Talk about your work with FunTimes specifically.

Dr. Ngozi Onuoha [NO]: So with FunTimes sponsored by Independence Public Media Foundation, I’ve been out there talking to people about the benefits of the vaccine.

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And FunTimes is an organization that has deep contacts within the African, African American, and Caribbean communities. How many folks do you guys get coming through there? And how has it been working specifically in those communities, getting that trusted information out?

NO: I think the program has been really good, and our target is to reach 25 community programs, and so far we’ve done about 14. I’ve also put out information on social media. We have over 20,000 people looking at those videos. And as we know, Philadelphia is really doing great in terms of its vaccination rates. I believe it’s at 70% and I think the information that we’re sharing has been very helpful. We’ve got very positive feedback on some of the programs and people are very encouraged.

And when you hear that, Imani, I mean, you talked about the trusted messenger program. What does it encompass as you guys try to reach other communities, including the communities that are connected to FunTimes?

ISJ: Right. So it’s about a 60 to 90 minute in-depth training, depending on how many questions people have, but it has been really powerful. We have trained, to date, 900 Vaccine Information Champions this year in about four different languages, including American Sign Language. So for us, it’s really about accessibility, making that information accessible to everyone.

What kind of people should sign up for this?

ISJ:  Everybody. Everybody from nine to 99. (laughs) But honestly, anybody, if they have any questions about booster doses, children five to 11 … also this is really great for you if you are vaccinated, but you want to help get your family and friends vaccinated as we approach the holiday season, but you don’t know how to talk to them about it.

You got 900 champions running around. How many people do you think they each reach? 

ISJ: A minimum of three. So we have this thing that we say like ‘tripling it.’ So we encourage people to then tell three additional people.

NO: It’s sort of like a ripple effect, not just within Philadelphia. The information is spread all over. It’s sort of information without borders.

And I got to give a plug. There is a Vaccine Information Champion training session on Nov. 17, 2021 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. is hosted by FunTimes Magazine. This is not the only one. I’m sure there will be others as well.

NO: Yes. We just encourage people to get vaccinated. This is going to go on for a while. It’s very important to get vaccinated.

And Imani, people who have other organizations sign up with you and get their own group going on?

ISJ: Absolutely. If you want to participate, of course you can register. But if you have a community organization from any age, Girl Scouts to the pinochle club, we can create what we call a VIC training for you. So no one is excluded so we can do it and we’d love to.

So thank you so much for being on. We appreciate you both. Thank you.

The Vaccine Champion Training Program hosted by FunTimes Magazine and Independence Media Foundation will take place Nov. 17. To register, log on here or go to FunTimesMagazine.com. If you’d like to set up your own training session log on to Phila.gov/phillycounts for more information.

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