Regina Sung, Staff Photographer

Recently, city officials created a public awareness campaign encouraging vaccinations for communities of color and youth.

The ad campaign is a partnership between the New Haven Health Department, the Cultural Affairs Department and New Haven Public Schools. The campaign, according to a Sept. 2 City Hall press release, involves “bi-lingual digital, print, and broadcast public service ads that will appear on billboards, busses, radio, television, YouTube, and other social media platforms.”

At the center of the campaign are students in New Haven Public Schools — many of whom are athletes. According to Erik Patchkofsky, athletic director for New Haven Public Schools, athletes will feature in campaign’s ads because they have a special incentive to encourage youth vaccinations.

“They believe that if all student-athletes get vaccinated, it will help them all stay in the game,” he said.

The ad campaign

To shoot the campaign, the city enlisted two local artists: photographer Leigh Busby and videographer Donnell Durden. Busby described the campaign as his “best work so far” and said he tried to link his subjects’ excitement to the importance of vaccinations.

“As I’m creating the different billboards, I’m looking at how people are going to see the people on the billboard,” Busby said. “The thought that goes on in the back of my mind is, ‘What kind of emotions are we bringing?’”

Spanish-language versions of the photo and video ads feature NHPS student soccer players. In one video, a player identifying himself as Kyle calls on viewers to seize the day by getting vaccinated. A fellow soccer player suggests that those with questions on the vaccine speak to their families. 

“Return to the pitch. Vaccinate yourself,” the ad tells the audience in Spanish. 

In an English-language version, several students toss around a basketball while imagining a post-pandemic future. “Want your life back?” one of them asks.

“Get vaccinated. We did,” other students respond. The 30-second ad reminds viewers that the vaccine is free and includes a link for more information.

Tamiko Jackson-McArthur, a Black pediatrician who also serves on the New Haven Board of Education, worked to create the messaging for the campaign. The campaign, she wrote in a press release, aims to “provide the information our BIPOC communities need when making the decisions to get vaccinated.”

“Unfortunately, we know we have a lot of underlying illnesses in the BIPOC communities — high blood pressure, Asthma, diabetes, COPD, Sickle Cell Disease — and we have multiple generations under one roof,” Jackson-McArthur wrote. “We must rely on science and be educated about our decision to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”

According to the state’s Aug. 26 COVID update, Latinx Connecticut residents were 60 percent more likely, and Black residents 44 percent more likely, than white residents to have contracted COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic.

Doris Dumas, president of New Haven’s chapter of the NAACP, echoed the need for more public health advocacy directed at communities of color. Though she touted the success of the “Vaccinate Fair Haven!” campaign, she cited the rise in cases from the Delta variant as evidence of the importance of sustained vaccination efforts.

“Do I think enough is being done now?” she asked. “No, I think we should do more. Absolutely.”

Youth focus

Last May, the campaign’s door-knocking campaign reached its initial goal of canvassing each house in Fair Haven. Since then, efforts have shifted to outreach for those ages 12 to 17. Fair Haven Community Health Care continues to operate an on-site health center at Wilbur Cross High School, which serves many Fair Haveners.

Meanwhile, the State Department of Public Health and Griffin Health will partner beginning this week to run on-site vaccine clinics at all New Haven high schools. NHPS teacher David Weinreb, who also organized FHCHC’s vaccine campaign in May, explained that new focus on teenagers could increase overall vaccination rates in Fair Haven.

“There are a lot of teens who are ready to get the vaccine, even if their parents are not ready. Those families also need that connection to health services and the clinic,” he said.

COVID-19 cases in children have recently risen in other states, coinciding with the reopening of schools. According to the NHPS COVID-19 dashboard, there have been 65 confirmed cases of COVID-19 this school year, of which 54 individuals were unvaccinated and 10 were vaccinated.

The ad campaign was paid for by a $13 million grant from the state.

Owen Tucker-Smith was managing editor of the Board of 2023. Before that, he covered the mayor as a City Hall reporter.
Isaac Yu was the News' managing editor. He covered transportation and faculty as a reporter and laid out the front page of the weekly print edition. He co-founded the News' Audience desk, which oversees social media and the newsletter. He was a leader of the News' Asian American and low-income affinity groups. Hailing from Garland, Texas, Isaac is a Berkeley College junior majoring in American Studies.
Isabel Maney covers sustainability and environment. She is a first-year in Trumbull College.