Manitobans in South Asian, Filipino communities deliver multilingual message on importance of COVID vaccines
Speakers made pro-vaccine video in Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Gujarati, Urdu, Tagalog
Six speakers. Seven languages. One familiar message: "We all belong to the same community. Let's keep each other safe.
"Please book your vaccine."
Members of Manitoba's South Asian and Filipino communities take turns relaying that message in Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Gujarati, Urdu, Tagalog and English in a new short video meant to encourage immunization against COVID-19.
Though the core points align with standard advice coming from provincial public health officials, it could be more likely to resonate within those communities than hearing it only in English or French, says one of the people involved in the video.
"The message just hits a little bit different," said Sana Mahboob. "It just has a little bit more of an impact when it's coming from someone who is [speaking] the same language as yours."
Mahboob works as senior communications advisor with the federal government at Western Economic Diversification Canada, but she took part in the initiative on her own behalf.
She said it was important for her to address members of her Pakistani community in Urdu about how vaccines can help return a sense of normalcy,
WATCH | Messaging in own language connects better with people, says Sana Mahboob:
Sanjana Vijayann, manager of diversity and inclusion with the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, also took part in the video. Speaking in Tamil, she encouraged compliance with restrictions and encouraged vaccination.
"We noticed that a lot of awareness campaigns tend to be communicated only in the two official languages, so English and French, but Canada is home to many cultures," said Vijayann, who was born and raised in South India and immigrated to Canada in 2012.
"The message that we're trying to convey is really simple: we all belong to the same community, we need a cohesive effort to come out of this pandemic and let's keep each other safe."
Disproportionate infection rates
The idea for the video came on the heels of a provincial report a few weeks ago. It noted certain groups of Manitobans of colour — particularly southeast Asian, South Asian, African and Filipino communities — had disproportionately high infection rates compared to white people leading up to the third wave.
Those higher infection rates seemed to coincide with greater immunization rates among white Manitobans early on in the vaccination campaign.
Vijayann said the apparent uptick in infections in certain communities of colour isn't a sign of vaccine hesitancy or non-compliance with public health orders.
It has more to do with social factors like housing and income inequality, and barriers accessing vaccines in culturally appropriate and convenient settings, she said.
"We really need an equitable vaccine rollout that considers access — in messaging and transportation and location and language and overall wraparound support."
WATCH | Lack of access for some Manitobans of colour, says Sanjana Vijayann:
Statistics Canada data released in March suggests about 83 per cent of South Asian Canadians and 75 per cent of Filipinos were willing to get vaccinated, compared to about 78 per cent of non-visible minorities.
These populations are more likely to work in front-line health care and in manufacturing, food processing, and service industries that experts say present a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 on the job.
"Those are industries that you can't work from home," said Ron Cantiveros. "It takes one person to potentially infect the family."
Cantiveros runs the Filipino Journal, a family business that got its start in 1987 in Winnipeg.
He also lives in a multi-generational household and feels an obligation to help protect the broader Filipino community in Winnipeg.
WATCH | Ron Cantiveros on getting back to the way things were:
Cantiveros wasn't involved in the video, but he's been acting as a vaccine ambassador in other forums, including social media.
"Filipinos love to celebrate, they love to gather," he said. "The sooner that my family and friends get vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to those celebrations."
'I was likely to have most resonance': doctor
Dr. Anand Kumar wasn't involved in the video either, but he was moved by the disproportionate impact on certain communities.
Kumar has also begun to see a higher number of people of colour in hospital while working in the intensive care unit at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre in recent weeks.
So the infectious disease specialist and professor of microbiology at the University of Manitoba connected with the India Association of Manitoba.
They hosted a virtual forum together last week. Kumar spoke about the evidence on COVID-19 and vaccines, then fielded questions from some of the five dozen attendees.
"I just figured that I was likely to have most resonance with that community because the aunties and uncles are always very proud of their successful children," he said.
Kumar isn't all that active in the local Indian community. He can't really remember more than a few words in Hindi. Yet he also knows a message from him could have more traction than one from provincial officials.
"As much as I try to be colourblind in my life … you have to be cognizant of the realities," Kumar said.
"The realities are, especially when you're working with older people or people that are more recent immigrants … my name and my look gives me added credibility. It shouldn't, but it does. So why not make use of it?"