Four ways healthcare leaders can partner with their community to advance vaccine education: How two leading healthcare organizations are driving vaccine education in their communities – and their suggestions for healthcare leaders
Smithsonian Science Education Center volunteer Pam Divack sat down with Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos from Johns Hopkins Medical Center and Dr. Melvenia Martin from Ochsner Health to discuss their experiences leading COVID-19 vaccine education in their communities.
Below are their biggest pieces of advice and suggestions for how healthcare leaders can collaborate with their communities to advance youth-focused vaccine education, and how they use the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s Vaccines! guide in their communities.
#1: Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to your vaccine education strategy. Listen to your community and tailor your approach accordingly.
Before leading any vaccine education initiative, it’s essential to understand your audience – whether kids, young adults, parents, educators, community leaders, or others. Dr. Galiatsatos and Dr. Martin both stressed the importance of taking the time to get to know different groups within the community before planning a vaccine education strategy. This includes meeting with different community members to understand the local education ecosystem, to identify commonly held beliefs and misconceptions, and to surface challenges within communities.
One way to do this is to start with a community outreach assessment. Dr. Martin shared how her group within Ochsner meets with community leaders and representatives to understand their needs and knowledge gaps. Similarly, Dr. Galiatsatos highlighted the importance of taking the time to identify community dynamics, power structures, and cultural and historical backgrounds, while asking communities directly what they want to learn and where they need support.
While youth-focused education is essential, don’t limit the scope of your potential audience! Dr. Galiatsatos and Dr. Martin shared how they have used the Vaccines! guide and other COVID-19 education resources to work with a broad set of community leaders and organizations. For example, Dr. Martin described how she has worked with teachers, Boys and Girls Clubs, churches, community centers, and other local organizations to advance vaccine-focused education.
#2: To maximize the effectiveness of your education and outreach, be sure to balance the science with the historical context.
Although sharing scientific facts is a critical component of vaccine education, Dr. Galiatsatos and Dr. Martin both pointed to the need to educate the youth and communities on the historical context surrounding the science. In addition to sharing facts, “the Vaccines! guide brings a big chunk of humanity and caring,” as Dr. Martin described.
Both shared how they use the Smithsonian’s Vaccines! guide to discuss the history of pandemics and vaccines, not just limited to COVID-19. They also use the Vaccines! guide to share how to use the scientific knowledge and make facts and insights actionable and relevant to one’s community, culture, or upbringing.
#3: Make sure the community knows that healthcare leaders are here to help.
Both Dr. Galiatsatos and Dr. Martin emphasized how eager and wiling healthcare leaders are to partner with educators and other community leaders.
As Dr. Galiatsatos noted, “Please seek us out. Think about what you need.” Similarly, Dr. Martin noted that educators “are not by themselves. If you want to have the difficult conversations, allow us at the Education and Outreach Program at Ochsner to come in and help.”
#4: Empowering youth with education and information is critical to our future success.
As we enter the next wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and new variants emerge, educating youth about vaccines will be critical – especially as child vaccination rates vary widely across states, ranging from 9% to 57% of eligible kids receiving their first dose, according to data from the CDC.
Reaching youth and educating them about vaccines and the pandemics doesn’t happen overnight. Both Dr. Galiatsatos and Dr. Martin emphasized the importance of building long-lasting relationships with educators, kids, and other community leaders. They suggested a simple start. . For example, Dr. Martin shared how her program at Ochsner started with Task 1 of the Vaccines! guide -- to have students survey their communities. She noted that the students enjoyed the task and were able to surface community concerns in a short period of time. Starting now is critical for long-term success, both in public health, but also in the future of our students and their careers. “Not only can students become advocates, but we can advance their healthcare careers that are needed for the future,” Dr. Martin described.
As Dr. Galiatsatos said, “Our hope is to be engaged and work with the community enough so that there is a trust in science. We need to win the trust of this generation and want to make sure they feel like science will help them do something unique.”
Educators and healthcare leaders – it’s time to come together.
For more ideas on how healthcare leaders and educators can collaborate on Covid-19 vaccine education, check out our other post, “Healthcare Leaders and Educators Must Partner to Educate Young People About COVID-19 Vaccines.”
About this blog series:
This blog is part of an ongoing series dedicated to encouraging collaboration between healthcare leaders and educators for youth-focused COVID-19 vaccine education. In the coming weeks, look out for more posts sharing actionable ways to advance youth vaccine education, and learn from organizations leading the charge.
If you are interested in learning more about the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s Vaccines! Guide, please email Katherine Blanchard at BlanchardKP@si.edu. If you are a healthcare leader looking for ways to collaborate with educators, or want to share your story, please email Pam Divack at email@example.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pam Divack is a Volunteer Strategist with the Smithsonian Science Education Center. Her work focuses on encouraging collaboration between the healthcare industry and educators to advance youth-focused vaccine education initiatives. She graduated from Cornell University in 2018 with a Major in Biology and Society and Minor in Business, and currently works as a Healthcare Consultant.