Ethnic minorities, such as Pasifika, residing in high-income countries were at higher risk of COVID-19 infection during the pandemic. To understand the experiences of Pasifika, including message dissemination and barriers to tailored public health messaging during the pandemic, a qualitative study was undertaken, underpinned by Laswell’s Model of Communication and Bandura’s social cognitive theory with data collected using Pasifika methods. Pasifika adults (n = 65) were recruited across Sydney from July 2020 to March 2022. Health care professionals (HCP) (n = 17) employed by four local health districts (LHDs) and Pasifika community-based organizations delivering multicultural COVID-19-related work within the study catchment, were also recruited. Five themes were constructed from the data of: (i) prevailing fear and uncertainty over COVID-19 infection and losing employment; (ii) limited knowledge of government perpetuating distrust in Government as a benevolent source of information; (iii) faith and trust as priorities for health decision-making; (iv) ‘Coconut wireless’—the role of family, friends and community in disseminating public health messages through word of mouth; and (v) limited health literacy affecting compliance with public health orders. Community members identified important messages and resources had not been sufficiently distributed. Most HCPs understood the necessity of grassroots-level engagement but reported existing approaches were inadequate to navigate challenges. These findings highlight the need for public health promotion and communication strategies that consider both the social and cultural determinants of health. We propose a 7-point checklist as a cultural appropriateness lens to assist the development and rating of existing or new health promotion messaging and resources.

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