Aaannnd, Action! A Behind-The-Scenes Look At NADSP’s COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy PSAs

Nov 16, 2021 | News

Last month, the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) announced that it would be conducting a comprehensive campaign across the country to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among direct support professionals (DSPs). This initiative is part of a cooperative agreement with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

During this year-long campaign, NADSP is launching a variety of outreach activities including fact sheets, blogs, podcasts, etc. – including the production of numerous public service announcements (PSAs). NADSP has already started this latest component of the campaign – having filmed interviews with DSPs who have varying perspectives surrounding COVID-19 vaccination.

NADSP’s own Director of Educational Services, John Raffaele, worked with filmmaker Jerry Smith and producer Pete McCauley of the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota, to capture some important and thought-provoking conversations. While the PSAs are just starting production and won’t be released until 2022, we’re going ‘behind-the-scenes’ with John Raffaele. We asked John all about his experiences during the first phase of filming, some surprising moments, and the new insight he gained into why 26% of DSPs remain unvaccinated.

What are the goals for these PSAs?

We are hoping that the messages coming through these short films will convey to direct support professionals (DSPs) the importance of considering getting a COVID-19 vaccination. DSPs are at the point of interaction with people who are more vulnerable and susceptible to complications and severe repercussions if they contract COVID. We want DSPs to know the facts about vaccines so they can make an informed decision about vaccination and hopefully decide to get vaccinated.

What did this first phase of filming entail?

The film crew flew into New York City from Minneapolis and we hit the ground running. We filmed each day over the course of 5 days. We started filming in New York City and worked our way up the Hudson River to Putnam County, Ulster County and finally to Albany and Herkimer, NY. We interviewed about a dozen people; direct support professionals, family members, people with disabilities, agency administrators and others. These interviews will be edited to utilize for several public service announcements in 2022.

During interviews with those who are vaccinated, what are a few things you heard that surprised you?

A few of the people that were vaccinated discussed their hesitancy prior to getting the shot. They relied on information that came from trusted sources and many did their own research. In the end, those vaccinated were pleased with their choice and each person indicated they owed to the people they support to protect themselves and protect them with vaccination.

During interviews with those who are unvaccinated, what are a few things you heard that surprised you?

The few that were not vaccinated discussed religious beliefs. That surprised me because it is widely held that most religious/faith organizations have declared that COVID-19 vaccines are acceptable and encouraged. So, when I probed a bit more it seemed that the understanding of one’s religion was perhaps misinterpreted. I attribute this to the vast misinformation and mythology that has surfaced with this particular issue during the pandemic.

Why is it so important to hear directly from DSPs about vaccines?

Direct support professionals are practical and highly committed people. Most direct support professionals base their decisions around the people they support. We need to understand the “how” and the “why” of direct support professional’s decisions about vaccination. We need to empathize and not judge them. However, we also have an obligation to give direct support professionals accurate and reliable/validated information about all aspects of the pandemic including vaccines.

What is the biggest takeaway you have after this first phase of filming?

I am always amazed and inspired by the stories of direct support professionals. The people we met during this week of filming told many stories of darkness and anguish as they dealt with the COVID-19 onslaught. Direct support professionals always showed up. They often would discuss great personal sacrifice so that the people they worked with and the families of those people were secure and supported during the quarantine. We must do better as a system to elevate, remunerate and respect the direct support workforce in North America. The pandemic has lifted a curtain, once again, that illustrates how essential direct support professionals are in the lives of people with disabilities.

How will these PSAs help address vaccine hesitancy?

We believe peer to peer communication is powerful. As other direct support professionals hear and see their colleagues discuss their respective journey in times of a pandemic, we think this will have a motivating impact. Direct support professionals who are not yet vaccinated, and who may be hesitant, might reconsider their choice after hearing the stories from others who are in the same profession. Also, there will be an appeal from people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to consider COVID-19 vaccination based on the mortality rate of people with IDD, if infected with COVID.

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