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‘Chair Care’: New Mexico Hairstylists Being Trained Under CDC-Funded Program to Push COVID, Flu Shot


Under “Chair Care,” a program funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New Mexico hairstylists are paid and trained as “trusted messengers” to promote COVID-19 and flu vaccines, especially to minority and conservative clients with low vaccination rates.



Public health agencies are funding a New Mexico program to train and pay local hairstylists working in privately owned salons to promote COVID-19 and flu vaccines to their clients.


The “Chair Care” program trains these “trusted messengers” to target New Mexico’s Hispanic, Black, Native American and conservative populations who have been shown to have the lowest vaccine uptake and highest “vaccine hesitancy.”


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the New Mexico Department of Public Health (NMDOH) are funding the program, which is run by Presbyterian Community Health and Better Together New Mexico, an NMDOH initiative that connects local organizations to do vaccine outreach throughout the state.


Other partners in the grant program include an unnamed doctor, a salon, a hairstylist and an Albuquerque company, Serna Solutions, which provides behavioral health training.


The program is training hair stylists to spread the agencies’ vetted messaging on vaccines to the public. The “trusted messenger” strategy is based on the assumption that people tend to trust such figures more than they trust public health authorities, according to the project website, which states:


“Research tells us that who a message comes from is just as important — if not more — than what the content of the message is … Chair Care TMs [trusted messengers] play a critical role in sharing the facts about vaccination with their clients because their clients trust them.


“TMs can talk with their clients about vaccinations in a more relaxed, conversational way than traditional authority figures or healthcare providers sometimes can.”


By training the “trusted messengers” to promote their messages, the public health authorities can get their message across to the public, without the public being aware the message is designed and paid for by those health authorities.


Hairstylists who sign up for a six-month commitment participate in two day-long trainings where they receive tools so they can “feel more confident” talking to their clients about taking vaccines.


They will be trained in motivational interviewing, COVID-19 basics, flu basics and long COVID basics.


After the initial training, the hairstylists are required to participate in twice-monthly virtual meetings to receive updated content and program support. At the end of the six-month program, they participate in a half-day debrief.


They also spend 30-45 minutes per week submitting data on their client interactions. The program website doesn’t indicate what types of data they are collecting.


Participants receive a one-time participant stipend, but the amount is also not specified on the website.


Better Together offers grants of up to $300,000 for proposals like Chair Care designed to circulate “vetted vaccine information” or increase access to vaccines for New Mexicans. All projects must include a focus on COVID-19 vaccination.


Better Together did not respond to The Defender’s request for more information about the program at the time of publication.


‘Trusted messengers,’ brought to you by corporate elite and the CDC


Chair Care cites an Ad Council Research Institute report, “The 2022 Trusted Messenger Study,” a follow-up on a similar report published in 2021, as the justification for the program.

The Ad Council is a nonprofit research organization whose directorship is comprised of over 100 representatives from almost every major legacy and social media corporation, Big Pharma, Big Food, Big Tech, professional sports, banking and consulting.


Its mission is to “convene the best storytellers to educate, unite and uplift — by opening hearts, inspiring action and accelerating change.”


The Trusted Messenger Study concluded that Americans don’t trust political leaders and institutions. To “market” messages that will “shift perceptions” and “ignite new behaviors,” leaders have to find the messengers that people trust and get them to deliver the desired message.


A key finding in the study was that local leaders — teachers, community leaders, nonprofits — are important references for people when they are gathering information to make decisions.

Based on these and similar ideas, the CDC since 2021 has doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in grants for the creation of “culturally tailored” pro-vaccine materials and for training “trusted messengers” to promote COVID-19 and flu vaccines to communities of color in every state across the country.


In March 2021, the Biden administration also earmarked $3 billion for the CDC to support local initiatives to “strengthen vaccine confidence.”


The method: motivational interviewing


The Chair Care stylists will be trained to use motivational interviewing to influence their clients.

Better Together defines the method, from the CDC’s website, as “an evidence-based and culturally sensitive approach to helping people manage mixed feelings and move toward healthy behavior change that is consistent with their values and needs.”


According to Psychology Today, it is a counseling method used to help people decide to change their behavior, and it is particularly effective with people who are ambivalent, or even hostile. It can be effective in one or two sessions.


Originally developed for people with substance abuse disorders, the method is now applied broadly in healthcare, psychotherapy, correctional and counseling settings, according to the American Psychological Association.


The clinician — or in this case, the hairstylist — is meant to listen, show empathy and support for the idea that someone can change, and help people think about how they can do so.

The goal is to guide the communication in order to direct people in a way that is “respectful and curious.”


The CDC provides a script for healthcare professionals to implement the methodology to promote COVID-19 vaccine uptake on its website. It also provides training in this method for clinicians working with HIV patients, opioid users and the elderly.

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