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The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how ethnic minority groups are disproportionally affected by health crises and the potential for community engagement to provide equitable public health information and services. Policymakers, practitioners, and academics have presented community engagement as a way to improve the access and uptake of health services, including vaccination, but the role of community members for health promotion is rarely questioned. We examine ‘community vaccine champions’, who have been acting as advocates, promoting engagement among ethnic minority groups for COVID-19 vaccination in different communities across the United Kingdom. Our research explores how champions working with minoritised groups have experienced and confronted the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Participants were invited to participate in this study as they worked with or for the Black or South Asian community (i.e., community leader, faith leader, or a public or allied health professional) and were working or had worked to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake. From April 2021 until May 2022, we conducted 12 semi-structured interviews lasting 45–60 min via video call. The interviews were inductively coded and analysed following a discourse approach to health communication, where a focus is made to draw out underlying messages and talking points. Our findings highlight the range of different types of champions, who have a variety of roles within their respective community groups. Champions proved adaptive in taking on new positions to promote vaccination, with limited training and preparation, and found that being ‘grassroots’ actors positioned them well to both address local needs and to help build trust between authorities and their communities. A major issue that champions found was the use of ethnic minority classifications and how to address misinformation. Classifications were seen as a problem in how relevant data was collected, as well as in assigning blame to certain groups. Champions also stressed the influence of media and social media misinformation on vaccine decision-making. Still, our informants cautioned taking action based on simplistic assumptions about how misinformation negatively affects vaccine uptake. We conclude by setting out the need for ongoing community support for health issues and the challenges of community engagement for vaccine promotion in a pandemic setting.

Original publication




Journal article


SSM - Qualitative Research in Health

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