Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy Among Russian & Ukrainian Families

Tammy Martin, MHA

WCAAP received a “Vaccinate with Confidence” grant from the American Academy of Pediatrics to engage families in communities at risk for under vaccination/vaccine misinformation. WCAAP program manager Tammy Martin and physician champion Dr. Tsering Lhewa led our effort to engage Russian and Ukrainian-speaking families in Southwest Washington.

Eastern European, including Russian and Ukrainian speaking countries, are among the top regions of origin of immigrants in Washington State, and vaccination rates among this population are low. The war between Russia and Ukraine has raised tensions, increased mistrust in the government and left many in the community exhausted. Understanding the context of the war and pandemic, our goal was to be a needed resource and provide our Russian and Ukrainian communities a space to get information about preventive health and ask questions.

To ensure the success of this grant, we began by establishing a working group that meets at least twice a month with representatives from the Russian/Ukrainian community, DOH and WCAAP. The work group was established to provide direction and ensure that the webinars serve the community well.

We coordinated and hosted two community webinars, one of which was in Russian and one of which was in Ukrainian, and one provider webinar.

Our work group identified Dr. Tetyana Odarich, a trusted community family practice provider fluent in both Russian and Ukrainian, to host the webinars and serve as a resource to our communities. We advertised the webinars through WCAAP developments newsletters, social media, Slavic radio, flyers within clinics, email and word of mouth.

Our first webinar, held in the Ukrainian language, was held on May 5 with 17 participants total. The webinar started with a parent speaker, Olena, sharing her story of navigating COVID, vaccine misinformation and the trauma of the war. Her story helped other participants feel comfortable to share their own story and ask vulnerable questions. After the Olena’s story, we received diverse questions regarding vaccinations, trauma, fear from the participants and Dr. Odarich was able to answer participant questions. Additionally, during the webinar, we shared resources that we collected around fear, trauma, vaccinations and preventive health.

Our second webinar, held in the Russian language, was on May 19. We had 14 participants total and the webinar started with another community speaker, Natalia. Natalia shared her experiences during COVID and focused on the impacts the war had on her personal life. Similar to the Ukrainian webinar, Dr. Odarich gave plenty of time for community members to get their questions answered with topics likes trauma, vaccinations, and where to get trusted information from.

Our final webinar was a provider webinar, which invited pediatricians across Washington to learn how we can best serve the needs and build trust with our Russian and Ukrainian families. The group was highly engaged and over 25 participants attended. We discussed the learnings that we gleaned from the community webinars and shared several of the survey responses that had been received.

During the provider webinar, Dr. Odarich discussed the following points:

  • Russian / Ukrainian cultural and political background
  • Importance of building trust
  • Reasons for vaccine hesitancy & trauma from conflict

The recording of the provider webinar can be found here.

The resources shared during each of the webinars were well received and individuals responded positively to having a trusted provider like Dr. Odarich facilitate the conversation. These webinars helped build a foundation of trust and opened conversations with the community that were invaluable.