Person sitting at table with pro-vaccine messaging.
Community educator Carol Bell shares information and resources on vaccination at a YMCA Family Fun Day event in Warrensville Heights, Ohio. Courtesy of Cleveland Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program.

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Updated COVID-19 vaccines are here. For the next few weeks, Public Good News is seeking to understand how community-based organizations are ensuring an equitable rollout of the updated vaccines and what tips they have to improve uptake.  

PGN recently spoke to Carol Bell, a community educator at the Cleveland Minority Organ and Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP) who works in vaccine outreach, about how to provide local communities with accurate information about vaccines and preventative care. Here’s what she said.

PGN: As a community health educator, what common themes do you see in the work you do to promote health education in underserved communities?

Carol Bell: What I see is that people don’t have confidence in the health system. So that’s the underlying problem—whether we’re talking about organ donation, or about vaccines, [or other topics,] they don’t feel like the medical field is advocating for them. 

[They] hesitate to sign up to be a registered [organ] donor because they don’t think their life is going to be fought for, or they don’t want to get stabbed with the needle for a [COVID-19] shot because [they wonder], “What are you injecting in me?” Or, “Are you trying to get rid of me?” Because there [have] been some unethical experiments and treatments done on certain groups of people. 

So to me, no matter what we’re trying to do, we need to address the fears in order to get people to decide to get the [COVID-19] shot. Until you address those fears, whatever their fears are, and talk about those specifically, people aren’t going to do it. 

PGN: How has working on different health topics helped you better communicate with people about COVID-19?

C.B.: I don’t think people understand the urgency sometimes. 

I tell people: “Have these conversations with your family. I know nobody wants to talk about death [or] going to the doctor, but you have to because it’s real.”

When I watch the news or read something, I stop and ask myself how I feel about that, or what I think about that, or how would I handle that. That’s something I encourage families to do while they are having a meal or family time to discuss hard topics so, when they’re faced with it, it’s easier to navigate. 

We have to be proactive in advocating for our own health. We must be intentional and purposeful in getting information from reliable sources—the CDC, local health departments, physicians, pharmacists—so we can make well-informed decisions and pass along accurate information. We sometimes do more research when buying a car or a new appliance than we do when it comes to our health. 

If you’re putting [information] in front of everybody now, when it finally happens— it’s not as scary. 

PGN: What specific strategies have worked for you in promoting awareness?

C.B.: I’m a little bolder in my approach, I think. 

You have to know your audience. With vaccinations, I really think people need to tell their story more. If you had a loved one die from not getting a vaccine, what does that look like? People need to hear true stories. 

You know? I didn’t get the [COVID-19] vaccine, like, right away; I was hesitant as well. I get it. 

Because [there] was so much coming from so many different sides. 

And people were angry. If you got [the vaccine], they were angry with you. If you didn’t get it, they were angry with you. 

But I was just like, “You know what? I have to do my own research.” And when it came time for me to get it, I was fine with getting it. And that was my choice.