Many community members have questions regarding COVID-19 vaccines. In particular, organizations that work in the community and often serve as information hubs have a specific need to ensure that their staff have up-to-date information about COVID-19 vaccines that they feel comfortable sharing. The program creates virtual platforms for community engagement and information sharing as well as a resource hub program that addresses information gaps.
The Vaccine Ambassador program at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) allows MDH staff and community partners to serve as trusted messengers of COVID-19 vaccine information to the local community. The program is not only limited to community partners contracted by MDH, but also to non-contracted partners working with diverse communities and wish to access and share up to date information on COVID-19 vaccines.
Vaccine Ambassadors possess a diversity of cultural identities that enable them to authentically engage with their own communities and adapt vaccine information and messaging to the needs and values of cultures. MDH has found that more so than the information itself, the community must be able to trust the person delivering the messages.
Training of Vaccine Ambassadors
Ambassadors receive training to present a Vaccine 101 presentation and talking points. Local organizations and groups can request a Vaccine 101 presentation from the Vaccine Ambassadors program. An ambassador is then assigned to that presentation based on availability and whether they have language or cultural skills relevant to that community.
In collaboration with MDH, NRC-RIM has adapted a version of the Vaccine 101 presentation for use by others.
Coordinating the Program
The Vaccine Ambassadors are led by two coordinators who route speaker requests, facilitate weekly meetings, and curate a resource hub with up-to-date information and talking points on COVID-19 vaccines. They also collaborate with MDH Vaccine Preventable Disease Unit leads to ensure that the Vaccine 101 slide deck is maintained as well as translated into multiple languages common in Minnesota.
Regular weekly, monthly or quarterly meetings with internal and external Vaccine ambassadors are organized and adjusted with time depending on specific information needs.
During these meeting, the coordinators debrief on presentations from previous meeting and provide updates on any changes or new information. Community questions and information needs are raised, and clarification and resources are provided.
During the pandemic, the Vaccine Ambassador Program was an accessible option for community partners to engage with MDH and be provided with up-to-date information as the pandemic evolved. It consistently honored autonomy of affected communities to make informed decisions about their health. It also strengthened MDH external relationship with partners including Local Public Health (LPH), higher education, community-based organizations and others.
Future of Program
In the post recovery pandemic phase, the vaccine program continues to focus on fostering relationships with the communities that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The program remains ready to adapt to meet any new challenges as MDH prepares to strategically position it to continue engaging with communities.