SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Two local organizations are collaborating to increase COVID-19 vaccine acceptance.

Healthy Savannah and the YMCA of Coastal Georgia are hosting public listening sessions to discuss COVID-19 vaccine awareness and acceptance.

The first two sessions were held in early June. Participants were asked to share their thoughts about the vaccine and whether or not they were considering getting the shot.

“We thought it was important to hear from the community members that we’re going to be serving,” Operations Manager Elsie Smalls, Ph.D. told WSAV NOW.

“Many times when programs or services are provided, it sometimes can be top-down,” she added. “We didn’t want it to be that way. We wanted it to be bottom-up because, at that point, it’s about hearing and listening to what the community thinks about and what is important to them.”

The effort is funded by a supplemental grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is intended to broaden the initiatives of the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant to focus on COVID-19 vaccine education, particularly in Savannah’s Black and Hispanic communities.

“Our overall goal is to have conversations with community members from that priority population to let us know their thoughts, their insights, their understanding and even feelings and fears,” Smalls said.

Dr. Smalls said participants believed information about the vaccine would be more effective if it explains the long-term health problems associated with COVID-19, appeals to people’s faith and desire to protect family and friends, and highlights those in the community who have lost loved ones.

“And making sure there is a clear understanding that the vaccines are free,” she said. “That it’s open to everyone that it’s available to everyone and that you don’t have to have insurance or any kind of medical coverage.”

Organizers will use the information from each discussion to create a community-led training program of trusted messengers to help inform others in the community with similar concerns, address common misconceptions, and keep the conversation going.

“That group of people will go through a brief training program so that we can make sure that there’s a consistent, clear, and valid message they are sharing about the COVID-19 and flu vaccines.”

They will host their third event in the series on July 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the African American Health Information and Resource Center at 1910 Abercorn Street in Savannah.

Individuals who complete the training will also receive a $500 stipend. Email to learn more and find out how to participate. Registration for the event is free.