Epicenter-NYC knows too well the challenges with getting New Yorkers vaccinated against Covid-19 so when monkeypox (Mpox) first hit New York City in 2022, our team worked swiftly to help create access and reduce the spread. Jackson Heights, Queens, the neighborhood where Epicenter first started, is an intersectional mecca consisting of immigrant, gay and multicultural residents. The density of our neighborhood (which led to our designation as the “epicenter of the epicenter” for Covid-19) breeds conditions for close social and physical contact, as well as a thriving nightlife scene, which could proliferate the spread of the Mpox virus. Without accounting for the many overlaps and complicated lives of our communities, there could be no effective strategy to combat Mpox.
Our goal for the project was to help stem the outbreak and reduce inequities in healthcare access and outcomes by collaborating with community partners to do outreach and engagement in communities most at risk for Mpox. With the support of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, we were able to raise awareness about the virus and local prevention, testing, and care options that are affirming and non-stigmatizing; and connect community members to services including vaccination appointments.
Taking the lessons from Covid-19, many of the same barriers were evident to protect New Yorkers against Mpox:
Mistrust of the medical establishment,
a lack of spoken or written English skills,
a lack of information on vaccines and their efficacy, and
a lack of trusted sources or unified media or news dissemination.
Further, Jackson Heights, located in the world’s borough, Queens, is home to a large population of bar and restaurant workers; they traverse across all five boroughs at all hours to make ends meet, often working multiple jobs. We know well that the traditional sites, systems and schedules of vaccinations (i.e. health clinics, Monday through Friday scheduling, pharmacies, or city vans with online appointments) do not meet the unique needs of this working-class population.
Our solution to the challenges of increasing vaccine equity reflects how Epicenter-NYC works: we meet people where they are.
We applied the learnings and solutions we developed from Covid vaccine rollout to inform our community about Mpox and used them to navigate vaccination sites. These include:
Organizing a volunteer corps
Having a dedicated telephone hotline
Communicating via a dedicated email address
Leveraging SMS to get information ou
Engaging on the ground across key areas
How these came to life:
We partnered with community leaders and organizations to get the word out by tabling at their events, disseminating key information via our newsletter, strategically designing fliers to reach people outside of digital, tapping the power of audio by doing dedicated podcast segments, reaching people where they are via social media and SMS, and more. We also conducted vaccine drives at bars, hair salons and grocery stores.
Through the aforementioned touch points and a series of outreach efforts, we let our community know we were there to help them. We were meeting folks where they were.
We educated New Yorkers about what the virus is and how it spreads, its symptoms, safe practices, where to receive a vaccine, and where to receive treatment if infected.
Meeting people where they are through our message dissemination, on-the-ground outreach, and navigation services, helped increase awareness around Mpox. Further, our team of staff and volunteers assisted New Yorkers with finding vaccines and scheduling appointments.
By the numbers
Events: +60 events, across seven Queens neighborhoods
Podcast: 20 episodes with dedicated segments on Mpox
Newsletter: Reaching thousands of users weekly with dedicated Mpox information
Social Media: amplification across 60 posts on three major platforms
In-person messaging: Reached over 6,000 people with creative fliers (15 different formats) and in-person interactions providing Mpox information and resources in English and in Spanish
It is no surprise that Queens, outside of Staten Island, had the least number of cases (according to city data), and had 54% of its residents complete their 2-dose series on par with Manhattan. Hispanics were also the largest minority to get vaccinated, especially as they were among the groups most impacted, which speaks to the importance of having information in language—in Spanish.