A partnership between Trent University and Peterborough Public Health (PPH) is providing two fourth-year Sociology students with valuable real-world experience in addressing an important and relevant issue – vaccine hesitancy.
As Canada, and our local communities, prepare for mass immunization against COVID-19, addressing vaccine hesitancy will be key to a successful rollout and keeping the public safe, but first, one needs to understand what’s behind it. This is what students Erin Bennett-Rilling and Rachel Tsitomeneas are working to find out through a community-based research study aimed at understanding vaccine hesitancy among the local population in resident of Peterborough City, Peterborough County, Hiawatha First Nation, or Curve Lake First Nation.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for these students to apply the abstract social research principles they learned in the classroom to a study that will have a direct impact on service delivery and public health messaging,” says Dr. Naomi Nichols, associate professor in Sociology at Trent and Canada research chair in Community-Partnered Social Justice, who is overseeing the project with PPH.
The project is also a way for the student researchers to think and understand different career options.
“Communicating scientific knowledge to the public is a very important job and a career option that someone with a specialization in sociology and health might pursue because you understand the social dimensions of knowledge production as well as the impacts of science on the organization of everyday life,” says Professor Nichols.
Focus group research to inform local public health communication
The fieldwork component of the study includes a series of upcoming focus groups where participants will be invited to share their beliefs, concerns and opinions on the safety, efficacy, and accessibility of the anti-COVID vaccine.
“The results of our research will inform Peterborough Public Health on which messages to communicate about vaccines and who should be communicating them based on what we hear back from our communities,” says Ms. Tsitomeneas.
The idea for the study came from PPH. “There’s a lot of information out there about the vaccines, so we hope that by testing these assumptions and finding out what questions and concerns people have, we can be as clear and as helpful as possible in our messaging,” says Brittany Cadence, communications manager at Peterborough Public Health.
Local research could have broader implications
The focus groups will be segmented by demographic and psychographic characteristics. “We’re hoping this will enable us to do more of a deep dive in understanding the needs and concerns of different populations within the local community and how to communicate with them,” says Ms. Bennett-Rilling.
Though the insights from the study will be used to develop health communications specific to Peterborough, Prof. Nichols expects it could also yield useful information to share with public health units in other small to mid-sized Ontario cities and towns like London, Guelph, Kingston, and Stratford which show similar patterns of vaccine hesitancy.
The deadline to apply to participate in this study is February 14. Visit peterboroughpublichealth.ca to learn more about the study and to sign up to participate.