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Toronto and Ottawa Launch Multilingual Campaigns to Tackle COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Eliminating language barriers is key to ensuring that valuable information about COVID-19 is accessible to everyone. Join us in the fight against the pandemic and demand that leaders prioritize equity across all communities by taking action here.

As part of an effort to address vaccine hesitancy and combat misinformation surrounding COVID-19, Toronto and Ottawa have rolled out far-reaching, multilingual educational campaigns.

With more than 15 languages covered in total, these initiatives aim to provide accurate health information and resources to the public, while addressing common fears about the pandemic and encouraging Canadians to get vaccinated as soon as they can. 

In Ottawa, for instance, virtual town halls are regularly held by Ottawa Public Health (OPH) in English, French, Arabic, Mandarin, and Somali, CBC reported. These sessions provide panellists with the opportunity to build a trustful relationship with attendees in their preferred language while dispelling myths and misconceptions about the vaccine — most of which are widely circulated through social media and online.

“We know that if you speak to somebody in the language that they understand, they are more open to [being] trusting, understanding clearly,” Asha Ali, a virtual town hall panellist and community nurse with Somerset Community Health Centre, told CBC.

“Having these sessions in the language appropriate to their culture helps remove barriers in understanding ... what's going on in terms of the vaccines, in terms of the risks of COVID-19 and when to get a vaccine,” Ali added, highlighting the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of colour in Canada.

Related Stories April 1, 2021 Thomson Reuters Foundation There Isn’t Enough Online COVID-19 Information in African Languages. These Activists Are Changing That.

Toronto has opted for a similar approach, favouring a far-reaching advertising campaign to address vaccine hesitancy and overcome the pandemic. 

The “Let’s Get Toronto Vaccinated” initiative, which is set out to begin Monday, features a series of targeted advertisements about vaccines in Bengali, Cantonese, Farsi, French, Italian, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tamil and Urdu. 

Building on an already existing set of advertisements available in English since mid-March, the newly launched campaign will run across 75 media outlets through mid-May and urge residents to book vaccine appointments online or by phone at 1-888-999-6488 (TTY 1-866-797-0007) as soon as they’re eligible to do so.

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According to a 2016 census from Statistics Canada, approximately 4% of Torontonians speak neither English nor French, Canada’s two official languages. This poses a significant challenge in accessing vital information, which the city government hopes to address, Toronto Mayor John Tory highlighted in a statement released on Saturday.

“In a city as diverse as Toronto, it’s critically important that we communicate information to residents in their preferred language,” Tory said. “The best way to protect ourselves and end this pandemic is for all of us to get vaccinated. I encourage all Torontonians to get vaccinated when they are eligible and to help their loved ones book an appointment and get their shot.”

Toronto Public Health spokesperson and associate medical officer Dr. Vinita Dubey, said “Let’s Get Toronto Vaccinated” was only one of the many steps the city had taken to promote vaccine equity and eliminate barriers to health care access. These include $5.5 million in support for grassroots organizations, along with free transportation to vaccination centres for certain groups.

On Saturday, Ontario pulled the “emergency brake” and entered its third lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. Health experts have since then called on Canadians to do their part as communities of colour continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic.