100 Connecticut college students hit the streets to convince the vaccine-wary

'This is not throwing data at people—this is really about meeting people where they are'
By: | August 2, 2021
Quinnipiac University’s Public Health College Corps workers canvass in Waterbury, Connecticut in efforts to convince hesitant young people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.Quinnipiac University’s Public Health College Corps workers canvass in Waterbury, Connecticut, in efforts to convince hesitant young people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Storytelling is driving Quinnipiac University’s student-led effort to convince reluctant young adults to overcome vaccine hesitancy and get inoculated.

Connecticut is among the most vaccinated states in the nation but only about 50% of 16- to 24-year olds are fully vaccinated, according to state data.

Irsa Awan, a Quinnipiac health science major who is headed to graduate school, says she joined the Connecticut Public Health College Corps this summer after contending with vaccine hesitancy among her own family members.

“I really wanted to go out to educate and spread information about why the vaccine is a good thing,” says Awan, an aspiring dentist whose community outreach assignment begins in August. “I’ve seen it from a personal side—I feel like I can connect more with people who are hesitant.”

More than 100 college students from all over the state have been recruited as interns in the effort, which will focus on 11 Connecticut cities that have been designated by the CDC as more highly vulnerable to health risks. The students come from two- and four-year colleges.

“We think this a win-win for students because they’re not just doing summer work, they’re also doing God’s work—they’re saving lives,”says Quinnipiac President Judy Olian, who compares the effort to a grassroots political campaign.

The state and the nation are at a “tough stage with COVID vaccinations now,” says Janelle Chiasera, director of the program and dean of Quinnipiac’s School of Health Sciences, she says.

Everybody who wanted the vaccine has already gotten it, leaving public health officials to grapple with reluctance, misinformation and the feeling among young people that they are not at high risk, Chiasera says.

“Now we’re at the persuasion piece, and this is a different conversation,” Chiasera says. “This is not throwing data at people—this is really about meeting people where they are and persuading with our ability to tell stories about the vaccine.”

Members of the health corps completed one week of training in storytelling, culturally responsive practices and active listening. They also gained a thorough understanding of COVID, how the vaccine works, and the potential side effects.”

Early on, our interns shared stories of their own hesitation before they got the vaccine,” Chaisera says. “They’ll be able to share their own turning point in getting the vaccine, listen to stories and get to the heart of what the hesitation issue is.”

Health corps students will canvass neighborhoods, visit barbershops, salons and department stores, and post on social media—among other activities—to promote vaccine use. Many will work in the communities in which they live.

“We didn’t want to bring outsiders into a neighborhood,” Chiasera says. “Seeing and hearing from people in their community—we think that will go a long way.”