How can public health authorities communicate with diverse communities in Canada?

Luisa Cunha

On February 23rd, Latincouver organized a roundtable and brought panelists in the field of public health to share experiences about vaccination awareness for vulnerable populations. During the roundtable, our panelists discussed best practices for vaccination awareness, prevention of disease, and communication with the public. We were thrilled to host this event with fantastic guest speakers who gave us different viewpoints–community representatives, leaders, and researchers. 

Our guests were Jorge Filmus, Senior Scientist, Sunnybrook Research Institute, and Professor, Dept. Medical Biophysics, Univ. of Toronto. Member of the Latin American Covid-19 Task Force; Salwa Khan, a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto and researcher in public perception of science and experts; Elena Alvarado, founder of Between Two Worlds and MSc in Public Health & Medical Anthropology. 

Expert in International Development, Project Management, and Community Health; Angela Contreras, Founder and Director of Verapax Solutions Inc., Lead researcher for a study on attitudes and expectations among Spanish and Portuguese Speakers in Canada about COVID-19 Vaccinations and Vaccines commissioned by Latincouver; Ingrid Teo, an active member of the Latincouver Senior Council.

Who was most affected by the pandemic?

After hearing from our experts, we could observe that communities can be vulnerable to COVID-19 in different aspects – vaccine awareness, vaccination behaviour, and incidence of COVID-19. First, some communities were vulnerable regarding awareness; some groups did not have access to vaccination information, were not aware of current guidelines in place, or were receiving vaccination misinformation. Some of those groups identified were the following:

  • Those experiencing financial hardship  
  • Those with lower proficiency in Canada’s official languages or illiterate
  • Those with fewer social ties in Canada and experiencing isolation
  • Those that received misinformation from instant messaging apps (ex., WhatsApp)
  • Those who could not relate to messages from Public Health Authorities and may not assimilate messages.

Communities across Canada were also vulnerable regarding behaviours – they may be aware of why COVID-19 vaccination is essential but may not take the initiative to get vaccinated. Those include:

  • People with precarious immigration status may not get vaccinated due to fear of deportation.
  • People who didn’t have access to convenient locations to get vaccinated could not make time to get vaccinated.
  • Women with children depend highly on husbands who may not have someone to leave their kids with and get vaccinated.

Other populations were vulnerable to COVID-19 as they may be suffered significant impacts from the disease or may be more prone to contracting the virus:

  • Seniors from language minorities.
  • People employed in essential and front-line occupations.

Nonetheless, as pointed out by Angela Contreras – those communities were made vulnerable – by policies, laws, and regulations in place dictated by dominant health, education, immigration, and economic systems. As we can observe – many changes are needed to ensure Canada has equitable access to vaccination information. Several communities are excluded and vulnerable to infectious diseases. Policymakers and health authorities must act to close health gaps and deliver relevant, equitable, and high-quality health services to all Canadians.

Lessons learned regarding vaccination awareness efforts according to our speakers

Now that we identified the communities most affected by the pandemic, which strategies could we implement to ensure equitable access to health services? – Our speakers shared their experiences and perspectives on this topic.

Salwa Khan

“Based on the literature on this topic, health authorities should include representation of people from the target community to deliver health awareness campaigns. By doing this, they could improve confidence in the measures taken by health authorities.”

Angela Contreras

According to the research results observed, people from Spanish and Portuguese-speaking communities in Canada are highly aware of the benefits of vaccines. The community is also, in general, highly in favour of receiving vaccines, including COVID-19. However, that awareness does not necessarily translate into behaviours. 

Ingrid Teo

Latincouver Senior Council in Vancouver has successfully connected to seniors by inviting Latinx doctors educated outside of Canada to communicate with them one-one – members were able to relate to the doctors and absorb their messages on the importance of COVID-19 vaccination and prevention. 

Elena Alvarado

In the Between Two Worlds Project for vaccination awareness for Latin Americans in the National Capital Region, adapting the communication style to fit the Latin American culture was crucial. The team adapted health promotional materials and delivered health messages orally and in cultural gatherings. 

Jorge Filmus

The Latin American COVID-19 Task Force, comprised of Latinx healthcare professionals, was created to address the rising number of Latin Americans infected with COVID-19 in Toronto. The group engaged in awareness campaigns and set up vaccine clinics in strategic neighborhoods while employing Spanish-speaking staff and being open to all (by not requiring personal identification). The Task Force had outstanding results – the team observed that the percentage of Latinxs in the Toronto area that got vaccinated went from 64% to 90%. 

In summary, we observed that delivering culturally appropriate health messages is essential – using communication styles most relevant to the target population and engaging community representatives in campaigns.

Moreover, at-risk populations must have access to vaccination services in their preferred language, at a convenient location for those with time constraints, and be open to all to remove possible barriers and increase vaccine uptake. Finally, effective health campaigns should focus on informing the population and changing their behaviour. 

To learn more about this roundtable, you can check our full video on Latincouver’sYouTube channel by clicking here

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