Competition to encourage youth vaccinations launched by 4 Alberta universities

Four Alberta universities are hoping a new competition will help get more young people vaccinated.

Concordia University of Edmonton, the University of Lethbridge, NorQuest College, and MacEwan University are all asking post-secondary students across the province to create media encouraging their peers to get vaccinated through facts and creativity.

Five cash prizes will be given out to winners, ranging from $200 to $1,000. Submissions can be anything from a TikTok to an infographic but should be made with social media in mind. 

“It’s one thing for us as professors, it’s one thing for experts to be speaking to students,” said Cecelia Bukutu, director of public health at Concordia.

“But what really resonates with students is when other students talk to them, their peers. They are more likely to trust their peers than any other group of individuals.”

The projects will be fact-checked by faculty before being posted to the universities’ social media accounts. 

Vaccine hesitancy

Bukutu said she conducted a small survey of about 500 students from various institutions across the province, tempering that it would not be representative of the whole province.

It found that 23 per cent of students were unsure or will not get the vaccine while 34 per cent are unsure or believe the vaccine to be unsafe. Of those surveyed, 24 per cent did not perceive COVID-19 as a significant threat or risk due to their age and a lack of underlying health issues.

People aged 15 to 19 in Alberta are 58.4 per cent fully vaccinated, according to Alberta Health. For the 20 to 24 age group, that number is even lower at 53.9 per cent. 

Bukutu said she knew she had to do something and created the vaccination campaign, made possible by a grant from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

She said often when people do not want to get vaccinated it’s because they don’t have the proper information or doubt the science.

“The idea behind the campaign is that your own peers, who have been vaccinated themselves, who have looked into the information, have created [something] for you to look at,” Bukutu said.

“We hope that it inspires, it informs, it encourages students to go out there … and then ultimately get vaccinated.”

‘They are not anti-vaxxers’

Selina Kunadu-Yiadom assisted in developing the project as part of her work for an after degree in Environmental Public Health. 

Kunadu-Yiadom echoed Bukutu in saying she hopes young adults will take up the vaccine cause thanks to their peers. 

“One thing we are realizing is people do want to take the vaccine. They are not anti-vaxxers, right? Especially the youth,” she said, adding that officials had failed to disseminate information effectively.

She pointed to shifting information about COVID-19 as the pandemic developed. Changing advice about the AstraZeneca vaccine was one example that could have contributed to feelings of distrust, she said.

Submissions have to be received by Sept. 30.

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