A new push to try to overcome vaccine hesitancy in Calgary’s South Asian community starts this weekend.
Alberta is due to lift COVID-19 restrictions next month but there are still many people who haven’t received a shot yet or have had one shot but are worried about getting a second dose of vaccine.
The Vaccine Community Innovation Challenge, funded by the federal government, encourages individuals and groups to promote vaccine confidence in different communities.
The government selected 20 finalists across the country which each received $25,000 to create and implement a campaign to reach communities where hesitancy is still an issue.
The Indian Society of Calgary was one of them.
“It’s very important for the South Asian community and Calgary’s Indian community,” said Devesh Oberoi with the Indian Society of Calgary.
Oberoi said South Asians are at a higher risk of exposure due to many working front-line jobs. Many families also live in large, multi-generational households.
“A lot of them work in factories, supermarkets, daycares, banks and health care. These are people that don’t have the luxury of staying at home and working from home,” said Oberoi, which can also make it more difficult to get vaccinated.
Then there are language barriers and barriers to accessing technology and official channels of information.
The Indian Society of Calgary’s 12-week project includes developing a series of educational videos which will be made available online as resources for the community and using community leaders, influencers and ethnic media personalities to reach their target audience.
“There will be sound bites from health experts on the importance of getting the vaccine and the mechanism of different vaccines, plus there will be digital stories from people who’ve had the virus and been hospitalized and that might inspire people to get vaccinated,” said Oberoi.
People who’ve had the vaccine will also share their stories and accounts of what the process was like, including what side effects to expect.
“Culturally, South Asians trust their medical experts,” said Ruksana Rashid, with Calgary’s Bangladeshi community.
But Rashid said it’s often harder for some in the community to access the right information in a format and language that is accessible.
“It’s hard to understand if everything’s in English and online scheduling via the website or phone is difficult where language barriers exist. These are the challenges,” said Rashid.
Rashid said first-generation immigrants and seniors struggle the most, but the right information delivered by people they trust can help.
“People have doubts in their mind whether Moderna is good or Pfizer is good and people who got AstraZeneca still aren’t sure what to do for their second dose,” said Raksh Joshi, the former president of the Hindu Society of Calgary.
“We just want to let the community members hear what governments and experts are saying around vaccines so there’ll be less burden on health services and things can open up.”
An online event to kick off the project takes place on Facebook on Sunday at 10 a.m. at the office of MP Jasraj Hallan.
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