Montgomery County turns to ‘Abuelina’ to help with young kids’ vaccination efforts 

Montgomery County, Maryland, health department officials say the first offerings of appointments for kids 5 to 11 years old to receive their COVID-19 shots over the weekend were snapped up within 45 minutes after slots were made available.

Mary Anderson, spokesperson for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, said the county is working to make sure that when clinics are announced, there will be an adequate supply of vaccines.

When vaccines were first made available, officials at the state and local levels in Maryland worked hard to overcome any vaccine hesitancy on the part of residents.

In Montgomery County, that included working with community partners, who fanned out into pockets of the county to answer questions and provide added information to people who were skeptical of the vaccines, didn’t speak English or didn’t have access to clinics or health care.

The county launched an aggressive public service campaign to reach Spanish speakers, introducing residents to “Abuelina,” a grandmother figure who chats about the benefits of getting vaccinated with her granddaughter Valentina.

In previous public meetings, Council members Nancy Navarro and Gabe Albornoz mentioned the power of Abuelina in reaching the county’s Spanish-speaking community and helping to overcome concerns about the safety and accessibility of the vaccines.

Mynellies Negron is the director of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships at Communications Shop, the firm that worked on the Abuelina spots.

Negron said Abuelina will be back in future spots to talk about vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds. The new scripts have been approved, but the latest spots may not be out until later this month. The animated spots are labor-intensive. The animation has to be in sync with the spoken performances of the voice actors.

Part of the power of the figure of Abuelina, said Negron, is that the character is voiced by a native speaker, who, like much of the Spanish language target audience, has roots in El Salvador.

“We wanted Abuelina to really resemble the community, to speak like the community,” and Negron feels the effort has been successful. “I think they feel that she is part of them.”

So, who is Abulina? That, she said, “is a little bit of a secret.” All Negron would say is that Abuelina is “a local D.C. talent.”

As soon as the vaccines for kids 5 to 11 became available, Albornoz, the father of four, said his three youngest, who are in the age range “are going to be signing up as soon as they can” to receive the vaccine.

Asked what he thinks parents need to know about the vaccines, Albornoz said, “While right now there isn’t sufficient supply of vaccinations for everybody who is seeking them, I’m confident that over the next few weeks that we will receive sufficient vaccines for everyone.”

He urged parent to register their children to receive the vaccine.

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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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