A vaccine can work if people are willing to take it. Student researchers Erin Bennett-Rilling and Rachel Tsitomeneas rolled up their sleeves alongside Peterborough Public Health (PPH) in a Trent Community Research Centre (TCRC) project to analyze local vaccine hesitancy, inform effective marketing measures and, perhaps, convince those who are hesitant, to give it a shot.
“I am fascinated by how one’s decision-making process concerning health programs has less to do with actual science, and more to do with people’s trust and past experiences,” observes fourth-year History and Sociology student, Erin Bennett-Rilling.
Why so hesitant?
The research team set out to determine the willingness of local residents to get a COVID-19 vaccine, the best way to communicate with them, and the public voices they trust.
After consulting with PPH, their qualitative research study included a literature review on vaccine hesitancy and effective communication methods to encourage vaccine uptake. The team also conducted a pre-screen survey, followed by select interviews and online focus groups to collect participant data and personal insight.
With the potential for their research to improve vaccination rates and support a healthy relationship between PPH and local residents, they found the biggest concerns involve vaccine distribution, choice and possible side effects.
“Once we get a better understanding, we will be able to tailor the messages of vaccine uptake to address unique concerns,” stated Ms. Tsitomeneas, a fourth-year Sociology student specializing in Criminology & Socio-Legal Studies.
Upon compiling their data, the team will send questions and concerns gathered during the focus groups to PPH with hopes of informing campaigns and future research. In addition to producing a final research paper, they will present their work at the TCRC’s Celebration of Research on March 26.
Requiring improvisation and initiative, the research project enabled the students to learn more about the origins of knowledge and the cyclical nature of research and problem-solving. They also developed research, writing and analytical skills.
“It is an amazing opportunity when students conduct research,” says Ms. Tsitomeneas. “Research closes the gap between learning theory and actually applying it to a case to yield meaningful and useful results.”
Opportunity & meaning
Speaking of the opportunity to engage in a research project with tangible benefits for the community, Ms. Bennett-Rilling says: “Students get first-hand experience in the academic world and develop lifelong applicable skills that look great on a résumé. The program connects you to potential employers and creates relationships in the working world. It reassured me that what I learned in school is so applicable to future careers.”
“By doing research in the health field, I have opened a door to opportunities and connections that I would not have had otherwise,” adds Ms. Tsitomeneas, who is contemplating a career in law.
With the help of the TCRC, community-based research brings together the knowledge and needs of the community with the research expertise of Trent University faculty and students.
“I am very proud to be a part of this program,” says Ms. Bennett-Rilling. “The research that is being conducted through the TCRC is fascinating. I have high hopes that students participating in this program can make a difference in our community.”
Learn more about experiential learning opportunities at Trent.