Franklin County Public Health launches COVID-19 vaccine ambassador program

Jess Deyo
Columbus CEO
Franklin County assistant health commissioner Alexandria Jones gives a COVID-19 vaccine to New Albany Plain Township fire chief Jack Rupp on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020.

Franklin County Public Health is laser-focused on its efforts to get the county better vaccinated against COVID-19, and for its next push, it’s calling on the community with its ambassador program, training them to be the group’s newest, trusted messengers. 

The ambassador program, which officially launched in July and is coordinated by communication specialist Tessa Gatz, equips participants with the training and tools needed to encourage peers to get vaccinated. 

The effort is an attempt to meet people, primarily those in vulnerable communities, at the ground level–instead of hearing vaccine advice from officials, the community can hear it from their neighbors, friends, social groups and more.  

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The program launched in July and is still gaining traction. So far, 40 people have signed up, and organizers are continuing to seek participants via businesses, faith-based organizations, social groups and minority groups. 

Tessa Gatz, communication specialist, Franklin County Public Health

“We’re trying to reach the individuals who are most at risk, so this has been a really important strategy for us,” says Joe Mazzola, Franklin County Public Health commissioner. “Because it's the residents who are perhaps most marginalized, who don't have that relationship or an opportunity to connect with us, that need to be connected with somebody who could.” 

Just over half of the community has received at least one vaccine, which puts Franklin County ahead of others in Ohio, Mazzola says, but is still not the numbers they hope to see.  

Those who sign up will attend a one-hour, virtual onboarding session before they can begin their responsibilities, which could include passing out flyers or wellness kits, making informational videos, posting on social media and more.  

In the future, Gatz and Mazzola hope to see the program extend farther by equipping ambassadors to spread any sort of relevant health information as it arises. But for now, Mazzola hopes to continue to see community members breaking through the vaccine hesitancy.  

“For those individuals who still may be hesitant, we want to make sure that we're providing information about the science behind the vaccine, the effectiveness of the vaccine, and really understand the level of risk that someone is at for someone who's unvaccinated,” Mazzola says. “Now it is really so much higher now than it ever was because of the delta variant.” 

Those interested in joining the program can fill out the ambassador sign-up form or email Tessa Gatz at tessagatz@franklincountyohio.gov. 

jdeyo@dispatch.com

@DeyoJessica