“It started with my parents and it just grew. It’s making sure that people get the right information to be safe. … And I’d say, ‘Remember I am a physician, too. I wouldn’t tell you anything wrong.’”
When Dr. Rosie D. Lyles wanted to participate in local efforts to educate others on COVID-19 and available vaccines, she started hyper-local: with her own parents. It became a very personal mission to make sure that her parents and their friends – who are older – received accurate information so they could make informed decisions when it was time for them to get their shot.
Dr. Lyles is one of a number of Illinoisans across the state who volunteered to be part of the Illinois COVID-19 Prevention Ambassadors Program. The Illinois Department of Public Health launched the program in late 2020 to encourage residents to use their skills and experience to share information with friends, family and neighbors on prevention measures, testing resources and COVID-19 vaccines once those became available. Dr. Lyles is currently the medical director for Anti-Infectives & Infectious Diseases at AbbVie and the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) Board Member for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for HSR&D Scientific Merit; served as a Board Member of the White House Coronavirus Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes (2020), previously worked for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System , the Chicago Prevention and Intervention Epicenter (C-PIE) for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Ambassadors participated in training and helped to organize and implement various outreach activities. The public health department provides resources like flyers and social media content for ambassadors to share and use with their outreach efforts.
For Dr. Lyles, the need for this type of local initiative became apparent when she would get calls from her parents who would tell her about things they were hearing online or among their friends – most of which was false.
Locally based, community-driven initiatives like the Illinois COVID-19 Prevention Ambassadors Program have been critical in combatting vaccine misinformation. This is important because health misinformation has been reported as one of the reasons for vaccine hesitancy, which was already on the World Health Organization’s list of top 10 threats to global health and could threaten the goal of herd immunity.
Dr. Lyles is committed to making sure that factual, reliable information is shared widely and quickly, regardless of where people live, work or worship, and particularly in Black communities that may not trust clinicians. This was critical in the early days of the pandemic – and still is today – when information is changing constantly. The outreach efforts are also a way to reinforce with participants that the federal agency that reviewed and approved medication for a grandparent’s diabetes or heart disease is the same one that made sure the vaccines are safe and effective – this has been a way to change some opinions around trust in the process.
The fight against COVID-19 has taken place on multiple fronts, and Dr. Lyles is glad to do her part to address the misinformation battle. Through the community-based programs, she and other ambassadors are able to give residents like her parents accurate information that they can share with their own friends and families. Dr. Lyles feels strongly that being empowered with knowledge will get more people vaccinated and finally help put an end to the pandemic.