Public health agencies are investing in “innovative approaches” to tackle low vaccine uptake and high vaccine hesitancy among specific demographics in New Mexico.
The “Chair Care” program, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the New Mexico Department of Public Health (NMDOH), is enlisting local hairstylists as “trusted messengers” to promote COVID-19 and flu vaccines to their clients.
This initiative specifically targets New Mexico’s Hispanic, Black, Native American, and conservative populations, identified as having lower vaccine uptake rates.
Operated by Presbyterian Community Health and Better Together New Mexico, the program leverages the influence hairstylists have as trusted figures in their clients’ lives. Research indicates that individuals often place more trust in such figures compared to traditional authority figures or healthcare providers. By training hairstylists to deliver vetted vaccine information in a relaxed and conversational manner, the program aims to bridge the gap in vaccine communication.
Hairstylists committing to a six-month program undergo two day-long training sessions, equipping them with tools to confidently discuss vaccines with clients. The training covers motivational interviewing, COVID-19 basics, flu basics, and information on long COVID.
Following the initial training, participants engage in twice-monthly virtual meetings for ongoing support and updates, concluding with a half-day debrief at the end of the program. Additionally, participants are required to submit weekly data on their client interactions, although the specific types of data collected are not detailed on the program’s website. While participants receive a one-time stipend, the exact amount remains unspecified.
Better Together, the organization overseeing the program, offers grants of up to $300,000 for projects like Chair Care, focusing on disseminating vetted vaccine information and increasing vaccine access for New Mexicans. However, at the time of publication, Better Together had not responded to requests for additional information about the program.
Chair Care justifies its approach by referencing the Ad Council Research Institute’s “The 2022 Trusted Messenger Study,” which builds on a similar study from 2021. The study highlights the decline in trust in political leaders and institutions and emphasizes the importance of leveraging local leaders, such as teachers and community figures, as trusted messengers for information dissemination. The CDC has responded to these findings by allocating significant funds for the creation of culturally tailored pro-vaccine materials and the training of trusted messengers since 2021.
The Chair Care program employs the method of motivational interviewing, defined by Better Together as an evidence-based and culturally sensitive approach to facilitating healthy behavior change consistent with individuals’ values and needs.
Originally developed for substance abuse disorders, this counseling method has been widely adopted in healthcare, psychotherapy, and counseling settings, proving particularly effective with ambivalent or hostile individuals. The CDC provides a script for healthcare professionals using motivational interviewing to promote COVID-19 vaccine uptake, emphasizing the importance of respectful and curious communication.