We're proud to showcase this case study in our 'Vaccine engagement starts...' series, part of our wider public engagement campaign. Our hope is that, through highlighting a range of the wonderful and impactful activities our members have been carrying out, others will be inspired to begin engaging with the public on vaccines.
BSI member, Dr Dammy Pinheiro is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Imperial College London. She has been talking to friends and family and engaging with ethnic minority communities and healthcare workers about COVID-19 vaccination. Here, Dammy talks about how she helps others make informed choices by focussing on specific concerns and the importance of continuing to have constructive vaccine conversations.
From knowledge to positive action
The beginning of the pandemic was a difficult period, but watching scientists come together all around the world inspired me to take action. Even though I’m not directly connected to vaccine studies, I’m an immunologist by training and I knew I could understand the scientific information being shared with the public. I had a lot of people approach me with questions about COVID-19 and vaccination and I realised that I could use my expert knowledge to help.
Though my personal experience with my own family, I found that engaging in discussions about the importance of taking the COVID-19 vaccines can really make a difference. It has been interesting talking to my relatives about their concerns to understand where they were coming from. There has been a lot of disinformation going around on WhatsApp groups and I have been going through it point by point, explaining how vaccines work and why they’re important.
I was a bit worried about interacting with the public at first, but I took these experiences with my family and applied what I learned when talking to other communities. I have been speaking out about vaccination in different settings and engaging ethnic minority communities, particularly with healthcare workers.
Interacting with diverse communities
When speaking to Black communities I aim to give reassurance and build trust using my immunology background. I found that people are very willing to ask questions and hear what I have to say. It’s a great privilege to share their experiences and relate to their concerns.
It’s important to remember that it’s about having a conversation, regardless of who you’re aiming to engage. A lot of the time it’s just people having questions – they are looking for information which you can provide so that they can then make their own decision. For example, I was a speaker in a BSI webinar for healthcare workers and our goal was to create a safe space to discuss their concerns, answer their questions and build vaccine confidence.
With specific audiences I recommend starting on a general level and if you need to, build on it. Some terms will sound familiar but might need a better understanding so it’s important to make sure all key concepts have been explained. A great way to do this is to go through how vaccines work using the BSI infographics, as it’s incredibly useful to be able to visual the concepts.
The value of an open door policy
For me, the best approach is to make sure others know you’re there – show a friendly face and highlight that if they have questions, you’re always happy to answer them. This way, you can begin with a listening role and by recognising their specific concern. Once you address it and show people that what they’re worried about might not necessarily be an obstacle to taking the vaccine, you can have a more productive discussion.
Regularly, I reach out to the Black community and other ethnic minorities through my networks to share relevant information, for example, I send them the BSI guide to vaccinations for COVID-19. I then emphasise that they can send me questions any time about specific concerns. It’s a great way to start a constructive conversation. However, it’s also important to guide the dialogue to the topics and issues you’d like focus on, so you can point people to the right information, rather than engage in conversations that might not be helpful.
Vaccine conversations are far from over
The BSI has taken the lead on delivering a strong vaccination message to the public, and many immunologists are working hard as part of this movement, but we have to keep the conversation going. I will carry on connecting with people and sharing my experience to help them make informed choices, and I strongly feel that as immunologists, we must all do so relentlessly.
Public health is about everyone, not just about ourselves, and the success of the vaccine rollout will affect all of us. There are recurring concerns and new ones emerging, and this will continue. I know it can feel overwhelming, but by supporting each other and sharing our experience, we can all find our way to contribute – if you can just help one person, then it’s worth it!
Follow Dammy on Twitter @PinheiroDrD
Are you a BSI member involved in public engagement around COVID-19 vaccines? We'd love to hear from you! Please get in touch with our Marketing & Communications Manager, Teresa Prados, to share your experience as part of our new case study series 'Vaccine engagement starts...'.
Click here to find out more about the BSI's public engagement campaign Vaccine engagement starts at home. We’re always looking for members to help bring the expert immunology voice so if you'd like to get involved with our public engagement work, don't hesitate to contact our Public Engagement Manager, Erika Aquino.