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We (Sort of) Moved!



Apr 15 . 2 min read

Alt: A doodle drives a moving truck with “W?HHL” emblazoned on the side while another doodle waves out the passenger-side window. They’re following a sign that points toward

This week, in the spirit of spring cleaning, we’re taking a break from our normal content to tell you about a few important housekeeping items.

The most important thing is that we’ve moved! You may know that while our weekly emails come to you via MailChimp, our blog content has been permanently hosted here on Medium. But not anymore. Now, dear readers, your very favorite We ? Health Literacy content will live at — wait for it — We ? Health Literacy Headquarters!

That’s right, from now on we’ll be hosting our own content on its very own cozy blog corner of our very own website. Please note that we’ll be ironing out any kinks over the next few months — like making sure everything is tagged correctly and so forth. But fear not! You don’t have to do anything to keep getting our weekly emails. Just know that if you want to reference a post on the web going forward, you’ll need to head over to the CommunicateHealth website.

Speaking of which, you may have noticed that we recently launched a newly designed CommunicateHealth website! We’re very excited about our new lewk (we do plain language and hip language), and we’ve added lots of new content to our portfolio.

If you have questions about any of this, feel free to respond to this email and we’ll get back to you. And we’ll see you next week with our regularly scheduled installment of We ? Health Literacy!

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Explaining mRNA Vaccines



Jan 21 . 3 min read

Alt: A doodle wearing a messenger bag and a hat labeled “mRNA” holds up a COVID-19 playbook and says, “Delivery!”

Now that folks are starting to get COVID-19 vaccines, many people are eagerly awaiting their turn in line. But because the first 2 COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States are a new type — called mRNA vaccines — lots of people also have questions about how they work.

If you’re still getting up to speed on mRNA vaccines yourself, here’s the gist: mRNA stands for messenger RNA — and the messages these vaccines carry are like instructions for your immune system.

All vaccines work by training your immune system to recognize and fight off a specific germ before it has a chance to make you sick. Traditional vaccines use the germ itself for this “training” — either a weakened or dead form of the germ, or a small part of the germ.

But mRNA vaccines don’t have any of the germ in them at all! Instead, they deliver a small strip of genetic code (the mRNA) that teaches your immune cells to make and recognize a key protein — in this case, the spike protein on the surface of the COVID-19 virus.

Once your immune system recognizes the spike protein, it reacts just like it would to the actual COVID-19 virus — by creating antibodies to fight it off. Then if the COVID-19 virus shows up, the antibodies will be ready to stop it in its tracks.

To round out this feast of vaccine facts, try offering your readers few tasty truth sandwiches:

mRNA vaccines can’t give you COVID-19. Remember, there’s no virus in them — and the spike protein can’t give you COVID-19 either.The 2 mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Researchers worked as fast as possible to get the vaccines ready — but they didn’t skip any steps or cut any corners. The researchers completed all the usual phases of clinical trials and gave the vaccines to tens of thousands of people, so we can be confident that they’re safe and that they work to prevent COVID-19.mRNA vaccines don’t change your genes. You may have heard concerns that the mRNA in vaccines could stay in your cells and affect your DNA, but that’s not true. In fact, your body destroys the mRNA from the vaccine within a few hours after you get vaccinated. The mRNA shows up, does its job, and then it’s outta there!Serious side effects from these vaccines are rare, and getting vaccinated is much less risky than getting COVID-19. It’s common for people who get the vaccine to get a headache or fever or to feel tired and achy for a day or 2 — and that’s actually a good thing! These are signs that the vaccine is working.

And while you’re spreading the good news about the new vaccines, remember to encourage people to keep taking other steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 before and after they get vaccinated. It’ll be a while before most people can get the vaccine, so it’s important to continue doing everything we can to keep everyone safe.

The bottom line: Explaining mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in plain language can help ease people’s fears — and make it more likely they’ll choose to get vaccinated.

Tweet about it: Want to explain mRNA #COVID19 vaccines in #PlainLanguage? @CommunicateHlth can help: #communicateCOVID

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Things We ?: The Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force



Feb 11 . 2 min read

Alt: Five doodles stand under the words: “Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic is finally over, there’ll be no shortage of careful reflection and lessons learned for public health officials (and communicators!). But one major takeaway needs our attention right now: COVID is affecting people of color at wildly disproportionate rates.

Addressing this problem will require systems-level change — and that’s why we were excited to hear about the new Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. Established by President Biden’s Executive Order on Ensuring an Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery, the Task Force will make recommendations to help address health inequities related to the COVID-19 pandemic — and prevent these inequities in the future.

(While the Task Force is brand new, it’s getting off to an equitable start by sending COVID-19 vaccines directly to Federally Qualified Health Centers — safety net providers that treat underserved populations.)

Per the Executive Order, Task Force members will come from inside and outside the federal government, and will include people with lived experience of health inequity in their own communities — like the woman appointed to run it. Yep, the Task Force will be headed up by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of internal medicine, public health, and management at Yale University — and we just ? her.

If you don’t know much about Dr. Nunez-Smith, we’ll give you an idea of where she’s coming from in her own words (as quoted in the New York Times):

“Making sure communities hardest hit by the pandemic have access to safe, effective vaccines remains a priority. [But] what’s needed to ensure equity in the recovery is not limited to health and health care. We have to have conversations about housing stability and food security and educational equity, and pathways to economic opportunities and promise.”

The bottom line: Creating the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force is a step in the right direction — and we’re excited to see where Dr. Nunez-Smith’s leadership will take us.

Tweet about it: We’ve got a lot of work to do to address health inequities in the United States. This week, @CommunicateHlth chats about the new Biden-Harris #COVID19 Health Equity Task Force:

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Aiming for Equity in Health Materials



Jan 28 . 2 min read

Alt: Above the word “equality,” 3 doodles of different heights stand on 3 same-size boxes. They’re trying to see over a fence to watch a baseball game — but the shortest doodle still can’t see over the fence. Above the word “equity,” the same 3 doodles stand behind the same fence — but the short doodle gets 2 boxes, the medium doodle gets 1 box, and the tall doodle doesn’t get any boxes. This way, they can all see over the fence.

Here at We ? Health Literacy Headquarters, we really enjoy talking about how health communicators (like you!) can help address health disparities. And since COVID-19 affects some groups far more than others, addressing disparities in our health materials is as urgent as ever.

So this week, we want to take a closer look at the difference between equality and equity. The George Washington University has a great resource explaining the difference, but we’ll give you a quick summary:

Equality means giving equal resources or opportunities to different people or groups. Think of a food bank offering a standard box of food to all of its clients.Equity means giving each person or group the resources or opportunities they need to reach an equal outcome. So maybe that same food bank offers customized food boxes based on clients’ household size and dietary needs — and has a delivery service for folks who can’t physically get to the food bank.

How does this apply to health communication, you ask? Providing the same information to everyone, in the same format, doesn’t mean everyone will have equal access.

As you’re developing health materials, get to know your audience — or better yet, actively involve people from your priority audience in the process of creating your materials.

Then ask yourself how you can ensure an equal outcome for as many people as possible — especially those facing structural barriers or disadvantages. For example, depending on your audience, you might:

Create bilingual materials to help reach audiences with limited English proficiencyPartner with trusted messengers to boost your credibility with marginalized communitiesMake sure your web content is accessible to everyone — that means considering things like alt text, keyboard navigation, color contrast, and much moreUse pictograms to represent key ideas in a way that’s accessible to people with limited literacy skills, cognitive disabilities, or other communication challenges

The bottom line: To tackle health disparities, go beyond one-size-fits-all communication materials — and remember that equal resources don’t always lead to an equal outcome.

Tweet about it: Equal resources don’t mean equal outcomes. So go beyond one-size-fits-all in your #HealthLit materials, says @CommunicateHlth: #HealthDisparities #HealthEquity

Image inspiration courtesy of Interaction Institute for Social Change and Angus Maguire.

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