COVID Champions: Trusted Faith Leaders

The availability of accurate COVID-19 information that is culturally- and linguistically-appropriate is essential to keeping communities safe. Likewise, it is also important to provide information via channels that community members actively use and trust.  

COVID Champions 

A COVID Champion is someone who helps disseminate accurate information on public health and safety, local support services, and their own experiences relating to COVID-19 to specific communities. For refugee, immigrant and migrant (RIM) communities, COVID Champions should be able to speak multiple languages and navigate different cultures, and identify as being from the community that they are targeting to increase trust, linguistic access, and cultural responsiveness of the message. COVID Champions do not need to be trained community health workers, but at a minimum they should be committed to preventing the spread and negative impact of COVID in their community by disseminating accurate messaging that has been created from identified, trusted sources. COVID Champions can be formal, like those that are employed by a community organization, or informal, like community members and volunteers.

Trusted Faith Leaders as COVID Champions

Many RIM individuals and communities cite faith and religious beliefs as a critical part of their identity and also 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, and promoting COVID-19 prevention and mitigation including social distancing. With the development of the COVID vaccines, religious leaders are increasingly being asked to offer guidance and information related to the vaccine, whether the vaccine conforms to particular faith tenants, and whether or not they support their community in getting vaccinated.

The International Rescue Committee conducted key informant interviews from refugee and immigrant members of different Muslim communities in Atlanta, Tucson, and Seattle to determine important factors in COVID-19 vaccine acceptance. Participants were originally from Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and Afghanistan. While the group was small, there was uniform agreement that having a local Imam record an informational message about the vaccine would be the most influential in decreasing vaccine hesitancy. Key takeaways included that the message works best when:

  • The leader is local, known and respected,
  • Delivered in the language of the targeted community,
  • Addresses common concerns or barriers to getting the vaccine,
  • Cites religious text, and is
  • Delivered through common community channels (like WhatsApp, or Facebook, etc.)

Creating a Video with a Faith Leader

Service agencies, community groups and religious organizations may consider working with local Imams to ensure that area Muslim communities have accurate information to make an informed decision related to the COVID-19 vaccine. A short video recording that is distributed among community members can be very helpful in this effort.

Video Creation

Before getting started, agencies should:

  • Identify a local, known, and trusted faith leader
  • Develop a script
  • Identify how they will film the video
  • Determine how they will spread or distribute the material

Developing a Script

Script should be short – ideally, one to three minutes, to hold the viewer’s attention. (In English, this is about 150 words per minute.) While the script should be individualized and in the Imam’s own words, the following items were considered important by respondents:

  • Leaders should introduce themselves, their city, and their mosque/scholarly institution
  • Some type of statement that COVID-19 is a problem for the community (i.e., COVID-19 has caused much pain and suffering for our Muslim community in Cincinnati)
  • An expressed desire to address COVID-19 as a community and as people of faith
  • A message that there are many rumors or misinformation about the vaccine. (Do not repeat myths as that has been shown to be ineffective. Instead, simply state that there are a lot of myths and then quickly move to facts.)
  • Messages that address the most common community concerns (i.e., The COVID vaccine is Halal or The COVID vaccine contains no animal products, etc.)
  • Any religious text that supports vaccination (for example, One of the highest objectives of Islam law is to preserve and protect human life or There is a verse in Holy Quran as well as in Old Testament: if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the life of all humanity.)

Filming the Video

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.

Distributing the Video

There are numerous avenues for disseminating these videos. The key is to know where your community is most likely to look for information or receive information. Video(s) can be spread through WhatsApp, posted on Social Media, sent to an email distribution or SMS list, or even posted on a mosque website or at the website of a scholarly institution – or all of the above! Wherever it is posted or distributed, don’t forget to ask others to share it with friends and family for even wider distribution.

Example of a COVID Champion in Atlanta, Georgia 

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Atlanta worked with Imam Sheikh Salahadin Wazir, the founder and CEO of African and Immigrant Communities in America, Inc. to create videos to encourage vaccine acceptance in a wide variety of Muslim communities in and around Atlanta. Imam Wazir created a script that incorporates many of the recommended elements above. The videos were recorded by an IRC staff member—using a cell phone with a high-quality camera and a low-cost phone tripod—at the IRC’s Atlanta office. Iman Wazir speaks seven languages and thus was able to repeat the message in multiple languages. These video messages will be uploaded to the IRC in Atlanta’s YouTube channel, Facebook page (8,000+ followers), and Instagram account (2,500 followers). The links to these videos on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram will also be shared with the IRC in Atlanta’s COVID-19 information email distribution list along with a request to disseminate, repost, share etc. The videos will also be shared with Imam Sheikh Salahadin Wazir, at his request, so that he can also disseminate the videos to his community via social media, email, WhatsApp, website etc. Ensuring the community leader who is involved receives copies of the videos to disseminate to their own network—different from the IRC’s—is essential to ensure furthest reach.

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