By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Gwen Washington, a resident of Wahl Park, isn’t a fan of needles; she faints whenever she gets blood drawn. When the various COVID-19 vaccines came on the scene, she was apprehensive about it.
Like many, Washington has lost close friends and family members to the virus. People were diagnosed, they went to the hospital and then they transitioned. So, when it came to the vaccine, Washington wanted to make sure it offered the promise of quality of life and longevity.
After having an in-depth conversation with her longtime medical provider, Washington scheduled an appointment at the Wisconsin Center and received the vaccine.
Washington’s personal testimony is one of several that is being shared through a multi-media campaign called “Authentic Voices.” The campaign is a part of Healthy MKE and was made possible through the partnership between local government, health care officials, nonprofit groups and community organizations.
When vaccine distribution began, local leaders banded together to spread vaccine awareness. The group wanted to create a campaign that was for and by the community. Lorraine Lathen, the president of Jump at the Sun Consultants, led the focus groups, which informed the “Authentic Voices” campaign.
The group already had its target demographics in mind, but it wanted the community’s input concerning the messaging and images that would best resonate with the community.
The focus groups took place over Zoom and consisted of individuals between the ages of 30 and 54 who were undecided about the vaccine.
Most of the campaign, which will be released on Monday, April 12, was informed by the focus groups, Lathen said. The input pertained from participants informed the creative forces behind the campaign to create something that resonated with the community.
While the overall focus of the campaign is making sure people are informed regarding the vaccine and providing them with the information they need, the focus groups took a personal approach when it came to discussing vaccine coverage. During the meetings, the conversation started with individuals talking about what they missed before shifting to talk about the vaccine.
When it boiled down to it, people are fearful of the unknown or they have unanswered questions, Lathen said. Throughout the conversation, participants looked at potential messages and imaging – the ones that resonated the most featured elders, Lathen noted.
“They wanted people who looked like them that were from their neighborhoods that would be honest with them,” she said. “If they saw them on a billboard or any type of written material, they could reach out to them.”
Participants stressed the need for real people to be used in the campaign both in and behind the scenes. In short, the focus groups asked that the organizers would be intentional about who they hired and that everyone involved would be paid equitably.
“Our attention was on achieving vaccine equity, that’s what we walked into the focus groups with,” Lathen said. “By the time we walked out, we walked out with people certainly feeling they didn’t want to be researched on and that they wanted to own the campaign.”
It speaks volumes to everyone involved that the input offered in the focus groups was taken into consideration when designing the campaign, she said. It sets a precedent for future work. Its essential to involve the community in designing something, Lathen said, because they’re going to take it to the next level.
“The campaign is meant to create dialogue and discussion,” she said. “Who is going to be spearheading those discussions and dialogue? The community. So, including them in actually designing the campaign – to me – is intuitive, but it doesn’t happen enough.”
Lathen believes that the campaign is going to create a buzz. The next step is making sure people are on the ground ready to share information, correct misconceptions and foster conversations. In the end, what matters is that people are informed, she said.
Washington, who filmed her vaccine appointment to share with family members, said that individuals are the key to getting back to normal.
“We all owe it to each other to try to get our normalcy back as quick a rate [as possible],” Washington said. “And the vaccine is the avenue to do that.”
Visit healthymke.com for more information.