Tackling vaccine hesitancy through art, not shame

Manchester project aims ‘to encourage people to get the vaccine and mitigate misinformation’

HesitancyNew Hampshire has hit a vaccination plateau, with 54.3 percent of state residents having received a Covid-19 inoculation, a New Hampshire Health and Human Services statistic that hasn’t changed much in the last few months.

While the decision of whether or not to vaccinate is often characterized in partisan political terms, there’s a group of people who are hesitant to get the shot for reasons entirely unrelated to politics.

It could be a lack of information, vague fears or generalized pushback on demands that they do something they’d rather not do.

It’s these people Grace Kindeke, a project coordinator with the Manchester Community Action Coalition, is trying to reach with a positive, artistic campaign.

She leads an effort to ask artists to create graphics and short videos for inclusion in a digital community campaign and art show intended to combat vaccine hesitancy. Artists whose works are selected will receive a $150 stipend.

“We are trying to encourage people to get the vaccine and mitigate misinformation,” she said. “A lot of folks, especially in the immigrant community, believe all sorts of things, and a lot of the messaging has been heavily negative, ‘If you don’t do it you will die, or are stupid.’

“We are working on built content, bright and interesting flyers, posters and graphics that can be shared on social media as well as things that can be held in your hand. We want to change the conversation and believe we can do that through art, building and connecting.”

Communities of color are among those being targeted.

Posters have frequently been a part of national crises, like the one during the 1918 Spanish flu with the pro-face mask slogan, “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases,” or the one during World War II with the reminder against incautious talk, “Loose lips, sink ships.”

Kindeke says the kind of bright and interesting artwork that can be helpful during the Covid-19 pandemic should provide honest and accurate information and be empowering.

It might, for instance, emphasize empathy and the desire to ensure the safety and health of loved ones.

The website, amplifier.org, has examples of free art intended to encourage people to get vaccinated. One piece shows a batter at the plate knocking a baseball-sized virus out of the park.

“There are many organizations promoting graphics and art across the country and trying to get out a message of positivity and encouragement for people to make an empowered choice,” Kindeke said. “And I’ve been in one-to-one conversations with people who said they weren’t sure about getting a vaccine and just wanted to have someone hear them out and not shame them.”

Her campaign also involves personal outreach to immigrant-owned businesses, heavily immigrant neighborhoods and communities with people of color.

“There’s a lot of mistrust and lack of understanding about the virus, about the vaccine and some of these people don’t have good relationships with health care providers or may have had bad experiences with health care professionals,” she said. “People have not been able to feel trust.

“The arena of public discourse is loud and messy and often filled with a lot of dire news and negative messaging. It makes a difference to see beautiful images carrying a positive message. As an African immigrant myself, I know that especially in my community, hope and beauty are important values.”

Amy Gothing, who works as a coordinator in a tutoring program run by the Manchester coalition, said she was hesitant to get a vaccination herself.

“It did take me some time to come to that choice of becoming vaccinated,” she said. “For me it was never a hard, ‘No, I’m not getting the vaccine.’

“I am in my early 30s and was quite nervous on how it would affect fertility and my ability to have children.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the vaccine is safe and effective and there is no evidence of it causing any fertility problems.

Gothing said she decided to opt for the shot after her mind was eased by talking through the issue with people she trusts.

“They eased my mind,” she said. “There’s only so much we can control. Who is to say, should I have gotten the virus, what that would have done to my health.”

This article is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative as part of our race and equity project. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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