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The power of partnerships: training community champions to have effective vaccine conversations


In 2022, we expanded our public engagement work around training community champions to have effective conversations about COVID-19 vaccinations. Here, our Public Engagement Manager, Erika Aquino, details how the training works, the lessons that will be used for future community engagement around vaccines and the impact on those involved, showcasing short case studies from our partners and participants.

Co-designed training with impact

Last year, we collaborated with Newcastle City Council and Birmingham City Council to co-produce tailored training programmes for local community leaders around building knowledge of vaccines and increasing confidence in having constructive dialogues with their networks and peers about vaccinations. This training was piloted with the London Borough of Bexley in 2021, and applying the experiences gained and feedback, we improved the programme for participants and expanded beyond COVID-19 to include information about childhood vaccines, vaccines for older adults and the HPV vaccine.

The training is co-designed with local authorities’ public health teams and their residents, addressing specific questions and key concerns raised by participants and their communities. The programme consists of accessible online sessions for one hour each week over four or five weeks and participants must join a minimum number to gain a certificate to encourage attendance. The sessions are led by our local members who have specialist knowledge of vaccines and honed skills in engagement and communication. Thank you to all our members involved – we couldn’t deliver the training without you!

Working in partnership greatly increased the impact of our training, as we were able to reach those holding social capital in their neighbourhoods and actively working with diverse community groups.

The sessions focus on building understanding of how vaccines train the immune system, as well as developing skills in listening to and answering common questions and sometimes complex worries. Sessions are also supported by our public-friendly resources about vaccines that participants can use and signpost people to.

Overall, 65 people have completed the training programme; 100% of community champions in Birmingham and 91% in Newcastle strongly agreed or agreed that they felt informed and knowledgeable about vaccines as well as confident to have effective conversations about vaccines. Encouragingly, all community champions reported an increase in the number of people they regularly talk to about vaccinations. Scroll down to read about the experiences of our partners and participants and learn how training community champions can make a difference.

Community engagement is needed now more than ever

The BSI can provide support for everyone to engage with the public about vaccinations and become positive advocates. We have expert immunologists around the country keen to get involved with their local communities.

Working in partnership greatly increased the impact of our training, as we were able to reach those holding social capital in their neighbourhoods and actively working with diverse community groups. This programme brings together the expertise of local public health teams and community leaders who have connections into regional networks and the expertise of the BSI in immunology and facilitation.

The bottom line: community champions make a difference to the people around them. To find out more about our vaccine champions training programme and get involved, please get in touch with us!

Erika Aquino
Public Engagement Manager

Case studies from our partners and participants

Sharing vaccine information to support communities

The role of our community champions in Newcastle is to share public health messages and guidance through their networks, whether that be friends, family and neighbours, or community groups and colleagues. The content of the training was excellent, with expert immunologists talking us through vaccinations and immunology in a straightforward way, and providing useful resources that we can share widely in our communities. The Q&A sessions were particularly useful as participants were able to bring up questions they have encountered in their communities and get simple answers that they can then feed back, such as understanding how the vaccine was developed so quickly. We’ve seen some fantastic work by our champions following the training and many have reported that they are using their new knowledge to have effective conversations about vaccines. Several participants support community groups and have been having open conversations with those who may be hesitant about having vaccinations. We have also seen an increase in champions coming forward to take part in community events and share their learning, answering questions about how vaccines work and how we know they are safe. The whole experience has been an absolute pleasure. The BSI remained in regular contact throughout, providing information on session content and follow-up evaluation. This has been a really positive experience and I’d encourage local authorities to pursue this opportunity to complement their COVID-19 vaccine and childhood immunisation programmes.

Hannah Morrow, Community Champions Coordinator, Newcastle City Council

Empowering residents to have difficult conversations about vaccines

Over the last year we have been working with local residents in Birmingham (COVID community champions) who take up the vital role of providing valuable insights into communities to help us protect the public from COVID-19. Many used their personal and professional networks to send information where we have traditionally struggled to reach. Much of their work was to be a trusted voice where misinformation could be challenged and provide support where needed. When I saw the British Society for Immunology was running training on vaccination for people with no prior health experience, I jumped at the opportunity to provide something like this to our residents. We spent four weeks chatting about all things immunology including conversations around COVID-19 vaccines, the HPV vaccine, flu vaccine, and the importance of vaccinations in children. One thing that was important to us at Birmingham was ensuring that participants felt confident in tackling difficult vaccination conversations; speakers at the online sessions took this into consideration and supported participants to tackle the trickier issues and questions that may come up about vaccination. The participants shared that the sessions were ‘informative and useful’, with information being driven by evidence and helped to ‘build confidence in having discussion surrounding vaccination’. We hope that the champions programme creates a legacy for the relationship between Birmingham City Council and its residents, particularly communities who are underserved. Communities are ready for a different type of conversation about their health and wellbeing, as proven through the interactive training with the BSI.

Shona Okeke, Senior Engagement Office, Birmingham City Council

Connecting with expert scientists

I joined the training programme with the hope of building a solid foundation of knowledge about vaccines, to assist me in producing materials for a Birmingham-based community outreach campaign. Not only was I interested in strengthening my technical knowledge of how vaccines work, but I also hoped to gain an understanding of key concerns, apprehensions and public opinion on vaccines more generally. It was a relief to be in contact with scientists that have such extensive knowledge of the field and expertise in particular areas, given that the subject was largely new to me. The diversity of speakers from a range of areas provided an excellent overview of the world of vaccines, and the engagement provided a rare opportunity to gain insights that you wouldn’t normally get. Outlining common questions and concerns and discussing how to respond to them was extremely useful, as well as the tips on how to tackle misinformation. I feel much more confident having effective conversations around vaccines because the sessions have developed my understanding about different vaccines and the diseases they protect against. They gave such an excellent broad overview, with just the right amount of detail, and also informed me about how people may respond and how to approach people in different ways depending on the circumstances, their views and background. I have used the information shared during the sessions in the production of training materials for outreach workers, guidance for religious leaders, and adverts on childhood and adult vaccines which have been played on local radio stations across Birmingham and on social media.

David Ball, training participant in Birmingham