In order to increase COVID-19 testing, vaccine confidence, and access among South Asian communities in Toronto, a group of 12 non-profit organizations came together and formed the South Asian Vaccine Engagement Collaborative (SAVEC). This collaborative aims to work with South Asian community members, agencies, and media outlets to develop population-specific and culturally relevant strategies to increase vaccine uptake. SAVEC’s in-person and online campaign initiatives include organizing mobile and pop-up clinics, conducting door-to-door outreach, hosting workshops and webinars, and content creation (e.g., infographics, animations, illustrations). SAVEC’s 40+ Ambassadors form the backbone of each initiative as they respond to community needs in real-time.  

At the moment, SAVEC is working on its third phase of development– the cultural awareness-wellness focus model. This phase focuses less on content creation and more on capacity building for their Ambassadors. Through interactive and peer-to-peer learning workshops, the Ambassadors are trained to dispel misinformation and address vaccine hesitancy among South Asians. 

As part of the cultural awareness piece, Ambassadors were trained on cultural awareness dialogue on September 15th, 2022 The workshop focused on the historical context of barriers faced by South Asians in accessing healthcare, as well as reasons behind low vaccine uptake in the South Asian community. The cultural awareness dialogue also discussed myths regarding vaccines. To learn from lived experiences, a youth representative shared their experience working with the South Asian community, focusing specifically on where healthcare hesitancy, fears, or mistrust stems from. 

As part of the wellness focus model, SAVEC has created a workshop series called “Thank You Thursdays” to focus on the well-being of Ambassadors and celebrate their achievements/work. As a result of the work Ambassadors do, such as handling sensitive topics like vaccine hesitancy and continuously keeping up to date with COVID-19 and vaccine-related information, this model was created to deal with burnout that Ambassadors might experience. Additionally, SAVEC holds a monthly roundtable with the Ambassadors to discuss any concerns, share best practices, and allow space for questions, updates, and collaboration.

During phase three, SAVEC plans to release more information on children’s vaccines 0-5 years old and the bivalent vaccine. For more information on the project, please visit their page: cassa.on.ca/vaccine/. You can also access this information by subscribing to the CASSA newsletter above.