Vaccine Boosters

As long as there are still people hesitant about getting a COVID vaccine, Ginny Webb wants to reach them.

Over the summer, Webb, an associate professor of biology, hired seniors Andres Villegas and Reem Hassan to put together videos in Spanish and English that shared people’s reasons for why they’d gotten vaccinated. Webb was particularly interested in reaching African American and Hispanic populations, groups that her research showed were less likely to be vaccinated but more likely to leave the option open.“A lot of the work lately has been somebody in a white coat standing there telling you to get vaccinated, and I think at this point that starts to fall on deaf ears,” Webb says. “So the goal of this was, let’s just get people out in the community, people of color who look like the people we want to watch these videos, and let them share their personal stories.”

That goal resonated with Hassan, who said the project also was appealing because she feels strongly about the benefits of vaccines. “Being a biology major, we get taught every day about different occasions when we’ve had an epidemic or pandemic, and the only way to fix that problem was for people to get vaccinated.”

Villegas, a native of Colombia, welcomed the opportunity to provide more resources in Spanish. “We have a lot of stigma about vaccines and a lot of myths about them in our culture,” he says. “So I just thought it would be good to educate people about what they really are.”

Villegas already had plans to travel to Spain and Colombia over the summer, so he used the trip to gather testimonials from the Spanish speakers he met and visited. He and Hassan, both biology pre-med majors, also took part in the MedEx internship program at Prisma Health over the summer, and interviewed fellow students from many different colleges and backgrounds.

Hassan and Villegas put their completed videos on a website they created, with Spanish translations added to the English versions and vice versa.

The website also contains vaccine facts, and invites visitors to share their own vaccine stories.

The students have worked hard to spread the word on campus and on social media about their site, and hope the testimonials from ordinary people – and time – will get the hesitant to take that next step. “Now those people see that nothing has happened – it’s been two years,” says Villegas. “So they know more about the effects of the vaccine and what it can do.”

Adds Hassan, “I think just having regular, everyday people tell you different reasons, like ‘I care about my family, or my kids, or my loved ones,’ takes away the stereotyping around vaccines. This is just something that people are doing because it’s good.”