136: Grassroots Vaccine Outreach

Dr. Anne Marie Murphy, Executive Director of Equal Hope in Chicago, explains the work her team does to reach unvaccinated populations with COVID-19 information and vaccines; Jessica Baggett, ASTHO’s COVID-19 Response Director, shares what members...

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Dr. Anne Marie Murphy, Executive Director of Equal Hope in Chicago, explains the work her team does to reach unvaccinated populations with COVID-19 information and vaccines; Jessica Baggett, ASTHO’s COVID-19 Response Director, shares what members are thinking about the next phase of the pandemic response; and ASTHO offers an infographic to help agencies promote breastfeeding as a way to improve early brain development for babies.

Equal Hope website

Community COVID Coalition: Social Media Assets Vaccines

Community COVID Coalition: COVID-19 and Social Media – Best Practices to Reach Your Communities

ASTHO Resource: COVID-19

ASTHO Resource: Breastfeeding Promotes Early Brain Development

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday March 11, 2022. I’m Robert Johnson.

Now, today’s news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


As work continues to protect people against COVID-19, teams have had to be more creative to reach unvaccinated populations. Since the fall, the Community COVID Coalition—a project of the CDC Foundation, ASTHO, and others—has been working to do just that.

25 community-based organizations are involved; Anne Marie Murphy leads one of them. She tells us how her staff at Equal Hope in Chicago gets the job done. Here’s part two of her morning conversation.

You mentioned you’re going to the places where these people gather, like churches. How much hope do you have that you’ll be able to continue to chip away at that extremely hesitant group that you’re trying to reach?


We’ve had some very good success through the churches, in particular—in fact, the vaccination rate for church members is often quite high. The pastors have been extremely involved; we work with a wonderful group called the Alive Church Network, on Chicago’s west side, that is a group of pastors that have a collaborative health ministry. And we and our colleagues at Rush University Medical Center have been going to church services and offering COVID testing and COVID vaccinations and boosters. And that, I think, has gone well.

There are, however, individuals that are not really connected to any community organization. They can be quite disconnected from a lot of touch points, and that group I think are hard to reach and have lots of perfectly valid reasons to distrust—whether it be the government, whether it be the healthcare system, or whether it even be community organizations like ours.


So, what do you do with a group like that? Just keep talking to them?


Yes. I think that, as time goes by and family members become vaccinated and bad things didn’t happen to them because they got vaccinated—one of the myths that I have heard quite often is that getting the vaccine will cause you to develop a tic or to start shaking, and it’s pretty obvious these days that we’ve all gotten vaccinated and none of us have those symptoms. I think as that goes on, more people realize that, no, these side effects have not, in fact, happened.

And unfortunately for some, the lesson comes through the death of their family members. In the communities we serve, death from COVID has been very high. One of my colleagues, by June at the beginning of the pandemic, 23 members of their church had already died. You know, that is not the way that we hope people would learn to get vaccinated, but it does have an effect on people every day.


Is it that kind of story that motivates your team to keep trying?


Yes. You know, we keep trying because we’ve had a lot of success reducing breast cancer disparities in regards to survival. We started our project and, in Chicago, Black women died of breast cancer at a rate 62% higher than white women. And after a decade, we’ve reduced that disparity to 39%.

So, we’ve had a lot of success in regards to reducing healthcare disparities, and we do believe that—with regards to COVID—that we can eliminate these disparities. Healthcare disparities are manmade and they can be solved.


Do you worry though that, in the end, there will be some people that you just have to stop bugging about getting a vaccine? That you just have to let them make this decision on their own, even if it’s the wrong one?


Yes. I think that everyone has a choice in regards to getting vaccinated, and some will never choose to get vaccinated. The country is definitely developing more and more treatments that will also help for those that get COVID. And we also have, unfortunately, a variety of people who will never mount a great immune response—those that are immunocompromised will never develop a good immune response to the vaccine.

So, as we promote vaccinations, we also have to encourage folks to be on the lookout for symptoms of COVID and getting tested quickly so that, if they do get COVID, that they isolate quickly; and if they start to get more serious symptoms, that they in fact go to the healthcare system to get treatment.


You can hear part one of this conversion on Episode 134, released March 9th.

Also, the Coalition has a website for agencies looking to engage young adults with vaccine messaging. You can find that link in the show notes.


ASTHO continues to maintain its COVID-19 incident management support structure, but the nature of the work is changing with the virus.

Jessica Baggett is ASTHO’s COVID-19 response director. She expects members’ questions will evolve as they calibrate their response.


I think it’ll be really focused on transition planning. And so, as we head into this next phase, what are the core capabilities that states need to be able to maintain, that they can quickly activate and ramp up should we get a new variant or should we need to be back in this immediate crisis response.

I think also prioritizing some of the things that we haven’t had the opportunity to focus on over the last couple of years. We really need to think about our public health workforce and ensure that they have the support and tools that they need moving forward. We need to get back to some of the other public health topics like the opioid epidemic.

So, lots on the horizon beyond COVID in the transition planning that we have underway.



Finally today, ASTHO has a two-page infographic available to help agencies explain the benefits of breastfeeding as a way to promote early brain development. The resource includes talking points, examples of member approaches, and a sampling of home visiting programs.

There’s a link to the document in the show notes.


Before we go, we want to remind you to leave us a rating and a review—each one helps us raise our profile and that makes it easier for others to find us online. Also, if you follow the show, you’ll never miss a single report. You can do all of this on the channel you’re listening to right now.

That’ll do it for today’s newscast. We’re back Monday morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I’m Robert Johnson. You’re listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great weekend.  

Anne Marie Murphy PhD

Executive Director, Equal Hope

Jessica Baggett MPH

Director, COVID-19 Response, ASTHO