Planting the Seeds of Health Equity and Community Wellbeing: Young People Lead the Way to Promote Youth Vaccines in San Francisco
As school reopening approaches, Max the Vax’ BIPOC youth-led initiative offers access to facts and a big dose of fun during COVID recovery
August 10, 2021
Danyelle Diggs just wrapped up her senior year at San Francisco State University studying Public Health, with a focus on women’s health. This summer, as a volunteer intern with San Francisco’s Max the Vax, she’s been working alongside other Black, Latinx and young volunteers of color to counter vaccine hesitancy and widespread misinformation about COVID-19 in San Francisco’s Bayview, Tenderloin, Visitacion Valley and Mission District- all neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
“Black and Brown youth are our target audience because many are hesitant to get vaccinated. People leading vaccines don’t look like me or my peers and Black and Brown youth feel more confident about the vaccine when they can see themselves in the people who are encouraging them to get vaccinated.”
Max the Vax was launched by Seedfolks, which sponsors community initiatives in response to emerging needs identified by people most affected by systemic inequality. The MAX campaign began in May in response to data indicating lower vaccination rates among young people from neighborhoods disproportionately affected by the pandemic. In partnership with SFDPH, SFSU, UCSF and SF General Hospital, Max the Vax recruited and trained Danyelle and other youth interns ages 12-22 to lead the effort. Training included workshops about credible sources of vaccine information, how to engage people using open ended questions, and how to explain the vaccines’ benefits versus risks.
Much of Max the Vax’s messaging is sent out on social media due to its target youth audiences. Max the Vax spreads reliable, accessible and vaccine-positive information on Instagram and Tik Tok. Members also support grassroots vaccination events where they play music, host games and art projects, and cheer on young people and others receiving their shots. Recently, they’ve expanded outreach to the Tenderloin and the Mission District, where Spanish speaking Max the Vax members are helping train families and young adults on successful outreach strategies in preparation for community-based vaccination events in August and school-based events in the fall. Max the Vax has been working throughout the summer to raise young people’s awareness about the heightened risk of the Delta variant and steps to lessen the virus’ spread among friends and family now, and among peers once the school year begins.
“Our goal is not just about shots- it’s about helping people acknowledge the context for hesitancy, sharing stories about the way the pandemic has affected people and sharing facts instead of rumors. We’re working to bridge the gap between medical professionals and communities of color and to bring fun and health together to appeal to youth.”
Danyelle and her fellow SFSU interns have contributed over 950 volunteer hours to Max the Vax during the past two months. She says her experience doing community outreach this summer has deepened her understanding of why many people of color are hesitant about getting vaccinated or distrust medical professionals. She and her colleagues reached out to friends and family to learn about their priorities and the burning questions they had about being vaccinated. Working alongside doctors at UCSF and SF General Hospital, they compiled answers to the frequently asked questions they heard. “I was hesitant myself to get the vaccine and many of my family members were too” she shared, “but I was encouraged to get the vaccine by my doctor, who provided information that made me feel more secure versus being misinformed by the internet.”
Seedfolks founder and Max the Vax supporter Laura Critchfield reflects on how the pandemic has highlighted the vital role youth engagement and leadership can play in building trust during COVID recovery. “Young people have a deep sense of purpose and a strong desire to have a positive impact on their families, communities and society at large. Our work as mentors is to create space where they can freely and collectively apply their passion and fresh perspective to tackling intractable challenges.”
As for Danyelle, when her summer internship with Max the Vax comes to an end, she will be taking on a new role as Volunteer Coordinator at San Francisco General Hospital. She says her experience leading on-the-ground community outreach and vaccine education with Max the Vax has built her confidence and allowed her to apply what she learned in her public health coursework.
“Max the Vax gives every member a voice and values their input. Even the youngest members can make a significant change.”