Addressing Vaccine Literacy and Hesitancy in New York State
Special Projects Fund
March 15, 2021
The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines brings promise to slow the spread of the pandemic and potentially achieve herd immunity.
At the same time, some New Yorkers display a considerable level of COVID-19 vaccine skepticism or hesitancy, with higher rates among Black New Yorkers. Even among health workers, skepticism remains, with hospitals reporting a large percentage of eligible employees that have declined vaccination. Origins and motivations for vaccine hesitancy are nuanced and multifaceted, including concerns about the speed of vaccine development and its safety, potential side effects, and experiences with institutional medical racism. One-size-fits-all messaging is not sufficient, and using the wrong language or approach could increase hesitancy. Community-based organizations need adaptable communication tools to address these specific and varied needs. In response, the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy Foundation (CUNY SPH) launched a global initiative to promote vaccine literacy and confidence in COVID-19 vaccines through high-quality data informatics and communication strategies and trainings. In 2021, NYHealth awarded CUNY SPH a grant to equip community-based organizations across New York State with tools and training to address vaccine literacy and hesitancy.
Under this grant, CUNY SPH partnered with community-based organizations to provide them with timely, accurate, and concise COVID-19 vaccination outreach messages and tools for their communities. It focused its efforts on communities in the lower nine New York State counties—Rockland, Westchester, Bronx, New York, Richmond, Queens, Kings, Nassau, and Suffolk. CUNY SPH tracked vaccine sentiments, understanding, and hesitancy through large-scale surveying in the nine target New York State counties. A community engagement advisory group helped translate this data into information that community-based organizations and other partners can use to tailor messaging. CUNY SPH developed a series of online trainings and tools in English, Spanish, and other languages for organizations and community leaders to address specific vaccine sentiments in their communities. It tracked engagement in trainings on its online learning platform and solicit ongoing feedback to refine its offerings. CUNY SPH also partnered with other vaccine outreach initiatives, including those being convened by the Community Health Care Association of New York State, NYC Health + Hospitals, and faith-based groups.