COVID-19 Vaccination Outreach, Education, and Support: Tips for ORR Grantees

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Recently, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) issued a Dear Colleagues Letter encouraging ORR grantees to provide COVID-19 vaccination outreach, education, and support to ORR-eligible clients and communities. 

Compiled from best practices and resources developed and catalogued by the National Resource Center for Refugees, Immigrants and Migrants (NRC-RIM), this webpage explores diverse ways that ORR-funded programs can achieve these objectives. The tips below are not exhaustive, but they may be helpful in integrating vaccine outreach, education, and support into your routine work.

Many ORR-grantee staff are receiving questions from clients related to the COVID-19 vaccines. Staff may feel unsure about how to respond for reasons such as health-related issues being outside their normal scope of work or not having received in-depth training on the vaccines. This Common Questions, Helpful Responses document is designed to help ORR-grantee staff competently respond to common vaccine questions. It provides helpful tips on how to engage in a conversation about vaccines, lists frequent questions and helpful responses, and provides resources to give to clients if they wish to seek out additional information. Additionally, NRC-RIM has created a brief training video called “Vaccine 101,” developed to help individuals and organizations serving RIM communities discuss and answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccines. You can watch the 26 minutes-long video and/or download the PowerPoint, should you prefer to present the information to your group. 

Having non-judgmental conversations (see Helpful Tips in the Common Questions, Helpful Responses document) with clients about the vaccine is one way to facilitate the exchange of factual information and point clients toward trusted sources. 

  • NRC-RIM has created “COVID-19 Quick Fact Flyers,” which have been translated into 14 languages in addition to English. These flyers are meant to introduce the idea of the COVID-19 vaccines and to spur conversations and questions. They are not assumed to change minds or answer all questions. Rather, the purpose is to let individuals know that staff are available and open to discussing the vaccines, and that they are also able to provide further information for those interested. These flyers can be given to clients during the course of routine business in all ORR-grantee programs, but may be particularly useful during initial medical screenings.
  • For newly arrived refugees, The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Welcome Booklet for Refugees provides important information to help refugees and their families stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic after arriving to the United States (find numerous language versions at the CDC website HERE). When talking with newly arrived refugees, ORR-grantees should reiterate concepts in the Welcome Booklet, as well as reference the materials given to clients in the IOM Hygiene Kit that was distributed to all newly arriving refugees upon departure (the Hygiene Kit contains tissues, masks, hand sanitizer, and a thermometer). 
  • Having trusted staff members who identify as being from the community and/or speak the client's language share their experience of receiving the vaccine has been shown to be helpful in encouraging vaccine acceptance. If vaccinated staff are comfortable, and clients indicate an interest, encourage staff to engage in conversations about their vaccination experience. These can be informal conversations that happen organically during the course of routine business, for instance, while staff are transporting a client to an appointment or calling to check in. 
  • These materials from CORE may also be particularly helpful:

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Utilizing Texting Services to Increase Communication

Text messaging can be an important tool for sharing informational videos and messages about COVID-19 to clients in a timely and efficient manner. The most popular messaging service among refugee communities is WhatsApp, with many individuals preferring it for their main mode of communication. (See HERE for a promising practice on using WhatsApp to reach refugee communities.) However, ORR-grantees may use a variety of other text messaging services just as successfully.

To facilitate text communication, ORR-grantees should identify either multilingual staff who are able to communicate with clients via text in their own language or trusted translation companies who can quickly iterate messaging. Setting up broadcast features in texting services allows messages to be distributed quickly, while keeping recipient information private. During the course of routine business, grantees can ask clients if they would like to join a broadcasting group to receive the most up-to-date information, and add their phone number to that broadcast list.

Creating Your Own Videos

Hearing COVID-19 information being delivered in their own language by a community member helps to increase a client's trust in the accuracy of the information. These videos do not need to be professionally done. In fact, homemade videos may be considered more trustworthy than professionally produced and edited ones. NRC-RIM has developed a checklist for content creators using remote and low-tech video recording technologies. NRC-RIM also offers a video booth service for help with recording videos. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Developing Testimonials - Testimonials are successful strategies that portray real stories from community members to communicate trusted information and to promote positive behavior changes. ORR-grantees can identify and engage local community members who wield influence within a community and collaboratively develop testimonials to reach different community groups. One example of this is to engage community influencers who may have large social media followings and popularity within the community. Additionally, a promising practice that has shown success is having trusted staff members who identify as being from within the community, or who speak the client's language, engage in conversations around their experiences of receiving the vaccination. Testimonials can be disseminated as print, audio, or video through text messaging, social media such as Facebook, and/or flyers. Learn more about developing testimonials HERE.
  • Partnering with Religious Leaders - Many RIM individuals and communities cite faith and religious beliefs as a critical part of their identity and central to their coping and resilience. In times of crisis and distress, individuals and communities often rely on faith leaders like Pastors, Imams, Rabbis, Lamas, Priests, etc. for comfort and support. During the COVID-19 pandemic, faith leaders have played an important role in easing concerns, fears, and anxieties, as well as promoting COVID-19 prevention and mitigation, including social distancing. With the development of the COVID-19 vaccines, religious leaders are increasingly being asked to offer guidance and information related to the vaccines, whether the vaccines conforms to particular faith tenants, and whether or not they support their community in getting vaccinated. HERE is a promising practice and some examples of how agencies can partner with local religious leaders.
  • Building Your Own Campaign – ORR-grantees can build their own campaign with local leaders to ensure that messaging is targeted to identified needs and resources within the community. This means equipping community leaders to lead the creation and dissemination of their messaging campaigns. After all, community leaders are part of the community — leveraging their knowledge allows more rapid responses and fewer iterations. Bringing the community into the process also creates buy-in and reduces isolation. Learn more about custom campaigns HERE

Using Social Media

Given that social media is embedded in our daily activities, ORR-grantees can use these platforms to distribute health information to clients. NRC-RIM has developed a Guide for Social Media Communications that can be found HERE. An additional guide for using Facebook to engage communities can be found HERE.

Encouraging Public Health and Other Vaccine Entities to Bring Vaccinations to the Community

If you have an existing relationship with your local Public Health Department or another agency providing COVID-19 vaccinations, encourage them to hold a vaccine clinic in an area with a large number of refugees. ORR-grantees can partner with the vaccination entity to provide language services, co-brand the event(s), and/or do outreach. ORR-grantees can also work ahead of time to mitigate factors that inhibit vaccine access, such as transportation and language/literacy barriers. You can see some examples of how vaccine access can be more convenient for communities HERE and HERE.

Helping People Stay Safe Before and After They are Vaccinated

People need to continue to practice precautions both before they receive the vaccine - and after. The vaccines take at least two weeks after the final dose to achieve maximum effectiveness. In addition, while the vaccine is very effective in preventing serious illness and death from the virus, there is still not enough evidence to know with certainty whether or not a vaccinated person can carry the virus. Until we know more, everyone who is vaccinated should wear a mask in public places.

ORR grantees should encourage mask wearing and other proper safety and health precautions as indicated by the CDC. Use a variety of ways to remind people of critical safety measures including texting a link to a language- and topic-specific message, incorporating a discussion into a remote class, or showing a video during a case management conversation and asking the client for their questions. Some helpful audio and video materials include but are not limited to: 

Find additional multilingual materials at the NRC-RIM Translated Materials Library. 

Using Data to Guide Outreach and Access

ORR-grantees can pull demographic data on clients and develop a spreadsheet that mirrors their state’s local vaccine roll-out plan (i.e., 75 years of age and over, 65 to 74 years of age, 55 to 64 years of age, people with existing and knowing disabilities or significant chronic health conditions, etc.). Staff can then use this data to conduct outreach to clients, prioritizing those who are most likely to be eligible for the vaccine first. In this outreach, staff can ask key questions, including but not limited to:

  • Have they heard about the COVID-19 Vaccines?
  • Do they have any questions about the vaccines?
  • Are they considering getting the vaccine? If not, why not?
  • Would they like more information regarding the vaccines?
  • Do they need help scheduling an appointment to get the vaccine?
  • Will they need help with transportation?
  • If they are declining the vaccine at this time, could staff call them back in a few weeks to check in and see if they need more information?

When outreaching to clients, is important that staff have some training on how to respond to client concerns and hesitancy in a non-judgmental and supportive way so that they build rapport and trust. This may contribute to clients being more willing to engage in conversations about the vaccines or to receive information. 

To ensure that outreach efforts mirror local and state vaccine efforts, ORR-grantees may wish to sign up for email, text/SMS, or social media alerts to stay up-to-date on changes to the vaccine roll-out plans (for example, in some states, roll-out plans are being expedited). Some ways to stay updated on roll-out changes and vaccine eligibility in your area include but are not limited to:

  • Checking with your local health department (NACCHO’s directory of local health departments can be found here)
  • Following COVID Daily Updates on Instagram
  • Using VaccineFinder or VaccineSpotter
  • Searching "vaccine bots" on Twitter (this will automatically alert you of new appointment availability in the area)
  • Searching "vaccine hunter" on Facebook (this will allow you to find groups in the area who post information regarding new appointments)

Holding Listening Sessions

A listening session is a facilitated discussion with a group of individuals aimed at collecting information about a specific topic. Listening sessions are an effective way to hear directly from communities about COVID-19-related topics, including vaccines. Insights collected during listening sessions can support future vaccine campaigns. If appropriate, medical experts can be available during the sessions to answer questions requiring additional expertise. Listening sessions can be held either remotely through a web or phone conference platform, or in-person (with appropriate social distancing measures in place). Depending on cultural preferences, it may be best to conduct separate listening sessions for community members of different age groups and/or genders. Find out more HERE.

Holding Q&As with Medical Experts

Although medical experts can be available during listening sessions to answer questions requiring additional expertise, the primary purpose of a listening session is to collect clients’ thoughts on a particular topic, rather than provide them information. ORR-grantees may therefore wish to hold separate Q&As with medical experts, where clients can ask questions and receive information from trusted sources. One such idea is holding a Q&A via Zoom with trusted doctors alongside regional and national community leaders and influencers in order to provide poignant and accurate information from medical professionals on vaccines.

Working with Local Partners to Create a Vaccine Collaborative

A "Vaccine Collaborative" is a community engagement organizational structure that facilitates productive and efficient communication between health departments and communities. Within this structure, information is shared by the health department directly to the participants (who may be individual community members or agency-affiliated staff) while feedback from the community is then relayed directly back to the health department. As there is no limitation on the number of participants, anyone interested can participate, which provides for a greater diversity of experiences being represented. Additionally, workgroups can be formed within the Collaborative to address identified barriers by developing community-informed strategies. Find out more information HERE.

The NRC-RIM team can be reached via email at Please feel free to reach out with questions, feedback, or to suggest a resource - either an existing resource that you have found useful or suggestions for resources to be developed. Please send your ideas, questions, and/or concerns HERE.