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Case Study: Getting Ohio Vaccinated
by Listening First

Sector: Public Health
Client: Columbus Public Health, Cincinnati Health Department
The Challenge

The COVID-19 vaccines were created in record time and saved countless lives, and yet close to half the U.S. population refused to get inoculated, in part due to deep-rooted distrust in the medical system which early messaging only exacerbated. In Cincinnati and Columbus, the neighborhoods with the lowest vaccine uptake rates were predominantly Black, Latino, and new American—some of the same communities already experiencing disproportionately high rates of fatality due to COVID-19. 

 

Columbus Public Health and the Cincinnati Health Department quickly realized that they needed to take action fast in order to prevent more deaths from COVID-19. They partnered with Cohear to hear straight from the everyday experts—vaccine hesitant people in Black, Latino, and new American communities—to learn about their concerns and questions related to the COVID-19 vaccines, and get ideas for what might change their minds.

The Conversation

Cohear activated our Bridgebuilder network in order to bring public health leaders and vaccine hesitant community members into much-needed conversation with one another. Additionally, we conducted extensive door-to-door outreach—both independently and through a partnership with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative—to get a clearer picture of target groups’ concerns about the vaccine, answer their questions, and provide information about how to receive it to those interested.

 

  • Nine focus groups in Cincinnati and Columbus

    • Six with Black residents

      • One focused on parents with children eligible to receive the vaccine

    • Two with Latino residents

    • One with a range of new American populations

  • Over 27,000 doors knocked in ZIP codes with low vaccination rates

  • 11,000 “hotspot” conversations about the vaccines in public places

“A turning point for me [when I was hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine] was I attended a panel discussion where there were Black healthcare professionals that answered actual questions to an audience… they were relatable and really provided a different perspective.”

–Community member

 “My issues with COVID go way back. My great grandfather… was a part of the Tuskegee experiment. So off the bat, my mistrust for medical professionals, the government, the CDC, the health department, all of that, is just in my body already. Just based on what happened to my great grandfather.”

–Community member

The everyday experts we spoke to shared deep hurt at the hands of the medical system, which, combined with the sudden sharp focus on vaccinating minority communities, instilled in them a distrust of all things related to the COVID-19 vaccine. Many participants felt that their concerns were dismissed by medical providers and public health officials who used language of “myth busting” rather than providing clear, straightforward answers to their questions. Vaccine lotteries were also a point of wariness for some everyday experts, who felt that such a gimmicky tactic was an indication that governments and the medical establishment have an ulterior motive for vaccinating minority groups (direct cash payments were viewed more positively).

The Insights

Overwhelmingly, participants found healthcare professionals of color to be the most compelling messengers, and the most persuasive message to be:

 

  • Acknowledgement of the validity of questions about the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Creating time and space for people to feel heard and respected when sharing their doubts and questions

  • Frank discussions about the risks and benefits of the vaccine

  • Hearing from public health officials who look like them about their journeys to confidence in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine

  • Small, immediately-available cash incentives for taking the vaccine

The Outcome

Columbus Public Health updated their messaging and incentives strategies in response to these everyday expert recommendations, while our nonprofit health funding partners changed their strategies for distributing vaccine-oriented funding. Implementing this feedback contributed to incredible, life-saving shifts in our cities:

 

  • 150% increase in Columbus’ vaccination rates following our engagement and resulting strategy shifts 

  • Columbus Public Health’s incentive-based vaccination system became a national model, resulting in increased vaccination rates in numerous cities across the country

  • Measurable increase in vaccination rates in Cincinnati