Women-led campaign makes vaccine information accessible for Manitoba newcomers

A campaign led by women of colour who work with newcomers in Manitoba is building confidence within those communities about getting vaccinated for COVID-19. 

The Vaccine Newcomer Awareness Group is made up of several newcomer and ethnocultural groups and meets over Zoom, makes phone calls and hosts expert talks — sometimes in languages other than English — where people can ask questions.

The group is especially focusing on seniors who live independently, as they don’t have the same access to information other people, said Perla Javate, co-chair of the Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba.

“If you ask them a simple question, the simple answer to the question will be, ‘I don’t want to go for the vaccination,'” said Javate. “But truly, some of the reason behind it is they don’t know how to navigate the system.”

The group teamed up with NorWest Co-op Community Health to make vaccine information available on posters, by video and online in eight languages.

Responding to concerns, lack of information

Perla Javate, co-chair of the Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba, got her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and is encouraging people in her community to do the same. (CBC/Darin Morash)

The Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba — a non-profit organization representing more than 20 cultural communities in the province — is working with the group to get accurate, factual and scientific information on the safety of vaccines to people in various ethnocultural groups in Winnipeg after hearing about vaccine concerns.

The council commissioned a survey of community leaders, and 40 per cent of them said people in their community have concerns about the vaccine’s side effects, long-term efficacy and safety. 

Some also feared the vaccine because of the history related to vaccination in their home countries.

“And then comes lack of information and or sometimes misinformation because of all the myths that are coming in, and some are hesitant because of their experiences with past vaccines that they’ve had,” said Javate.

‘Women of colour play a critical role’

A social media campaign — led by women for women — encourages seniors and health-care workers to post a vaccine selfie along with the reason they got the shot. 

“They took a photo and shared it on social media, which is very powerful when other people see their neighbours or coworkers or friends are sharing those photos or reasons,” said Jennifer Chen, president of the Women of Colour Community Leadership Initiative, which is involved in the group as well.

She said there’s a reason why women are leading this and prioritizing connection with other women.

“Women of colour play a critical role in keeping families and communities healthy in the ethnocultural community’s culture,” she added. 

Chen shared vaccine safety information in Chinese, joining those who shared the same information in Hindi, Dinka, Punjabi, Arabic, Chinese, Nepali, Vietnamese and Spanish. 

“It’s basically getting the information, the right information, to all the people,” said Javate. 

She got her dose of the vaccine at Winnipeg’s supersite in early April, and now encourages her friends and community to do the same. 

“For me it felt good. You feel a little safer.”

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