Youth in Pima County, Arizona Inspire Community with #VaxTruthChallenge Videos
Located in Southern Arizona and partially on the U.S.-Mexico border, Pima County has made progress vaccinating people 18 years and older for COVID-19, with 68% of its adult population fully vaccinated as of September 22, 2021. However, 12 to 17-year-olds have been slow to get vaccinated since they became eligible. To help increase youth COVID-19 vaccinations, Pima County Health Department (PCHD) asked local youth advisors to help identify strategies most appealing to their peers.
One such strategy is #VaxTruthChallenge,external icon a social media contest Pima County youth advisors and PCHD began in May 2021. To participate in the challenge, Pima County residents aged 24 and younger create and submit COVID-19 vaccination promotional videos on social media using the hashtag #VaxTruthChallenge. Video themes include countering COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, highlighting the importance of getting vaccinated, and sharing key vaccine facts. A panel of health department staff, including Pima County residents aged 24 and younger, reviews entries and scores them based on their creativity, potential for impact, ability to reach 12 to 24-year-olds, technical quality, and “viral potential” (i.e., its ability to quickly spread). Winners and runners up receive gift cards valued up to $1,000 and $500, respectively.
“We had a lot of ideas about how to get the youth involved, but all youth we spoke with said to use social media. Video content on platforms, such as TikTok, are popular and engaging. Local youth helped us use the right terminology, themes, and messaging, which was really important,” said Emily Bressler, Strategic Partnership Coordinator for PCHD.
#VaxTruthChallenge has increased engagement with each of its four rounds, with its winning submissions accumulating more than 4,800 total views across social media platforms. Consistent with the county’s demographic makeup (51% non-Hispanic White, 38% Hispanic/Latino), entries are accepted in English and Spanish. A total of 14 videos have been submitted—all in English, with one ending in a call to action in Spanish.
“I wanted to participate in the #VaxTruthChallenge to help prevent misinformation and to teach our society about the severity of this pandemic,” said Amelia Jimenez, the first winner of the #VaxTruthChallenge. “I’m young and healthy, but this virus does not discriminate. I had COVID-19 and was a long-hauler. It’s important to get vaccinated and save lives.”
After winners were selectedexternal icon, local TV networks aired some of the videos, which PCHD shared with more than 3,000 residents through local community partners’ e-newsletters. “Sharing the winning videos has been really uplifting, especially to those who are struggling from the pandemic,” noted Jennie Mullins, Senior Manager at PCHD.
“While it can be challenging to reach and engage youth, there’s incredible talent in communities of young people, and we should give them the creative outlets to express themselves and be part of the conversation,” said Ms. Mullins.
Promotion through Partnerships
Recognizing the power of grassroots promotion, PCHD partnered with local schools and teachers to share #VaxTruthChallenge with their students. PCHD’s school-focused team, which already was building connections with local schools, helped further promote the contest. PCHD supported school-located vaccination clinics and promoted the #VaxTruthChallenge to parents and kids who attended.
To aid with promotion, PCHD also tapped into existing partnerships with youth-serving organizations such as Youth on Their Own, Girl Scouts of the USA, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, All Sports Tucson, and Tucson Indian Center. According to CDC’s COVID Data Tracker, as of September 22, 2021, Pima County is ahead of state-wide vaccinations among those 12 years and older with 66% fully vaccinated, compared to 59% fully vaccinated across all counties in Arizona.
Challenges and Lessons Learned
When the contest first launched in May 2021, engagement was lower than PCHD staff had hoped. This was likely due to fatigue felt at the end of a challenging pandemic school year and limited reach through grassroots promotional efforts. PCHD noted additional pre-planning and promotion would have further built youth’s excitement and anticipation for the contest.
The #VaxTruthChallenge experienced a few logistical challenges—navigating parental consent for youth to promote winners’ content on PCHD’s website and asking participants to adjust their social media privacy settings to allow PCHD to view their submissions. To overcome each challenge, PCHD offered an alternative for youth to submit their videos and created a Google form on vaxchallenge.com to allow youth to directly upload video submissions without changing their social media privacy settings.
“Contrary to many adults’ perceptions, our youth truly care and want to help. We need to engage young people more in developing solutions,” stressed Ms. Mullins. Contest winners noted that their videos have initiated COVID-19 conversations among their family and friends. “If I can help encourage just one person to get the vaccine and prevent them from getting COVID-19, then the video is important,” said Jimenez.
Meeting youth where they are on social media through videos and messaging is key to normalizing COVID-19 vaccinations among young people. Considering the Delta variant and rising COVID-19 rates among young people, the #VaxTruthChallenge could not come at a better time.
What are you, your health department, or your organization doing to support COVID-19 vaccination in your community? Share your story with email@example.com and you could see it on our COVID-19 Vaccine Community Features page.