Vaccine Literacy Club launches fevered pitch to combat vaccine hesitancy

A new club will be joining the UBC community this fall — the Vaccine Literacy Club.

Starting in September, the new organization will be launching itself with the goal of protecting UBC students, staff, faculty and the general Vancouver community from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases through education.

Club co-founder Emilie Wang said that she was inspired to start this initiative by the number of young people in her life who have displayed vaccine hesitancy over the course of the pandemic and especially BC’s vaccine rollout. She wants to ensure that her peers will be better educated on vaccines for the future, potentially mitigating further disease outbreaks.

“As our vaccine percentages are stabilizing, lots of people are vaccine-hesitant,” said Wang, a second-year environmental science and preventative medicine student. “We hope to help people learn more about the science behind vaccines to make better decisions for their own health.”

Wang particularly hopes that her club’s message will reach younger people, among whom vaccination rates in BC have been lowest, enabling the spread of the Delta variant. The reasons for this phenomenon are unclear, though Wang believes that it may be connected to inadequate education on vaccines.

“Vaccine hesitancy doesn't just suddenly crystallize in adulthood,” she said. “It's not really a big part of the BC curriculum. We don't really learn about the science behind vaccines.”

The goal of the Vaccine Literacy Club is to produce resources that will change this lack of familiarity with vaccines.

According to Wang, the group will be disseminating information through presentations to other clubs, hoping to ensure that their members and executives get vaccinated. Multiple clubs have already reached out in hopes of organizing such presentations, she said. While the Vaccine Literacy Club is not yet an AMS club, it hopes to receive such approval in September.

The club also plans on organizing panel discussions featuring vaccine experts and running an aggressive, multilingual social media campaign meant to combat misinformation while addressing the many social determinants of health.

“Sometimes, I think we find it difficult to trust information that is very top-down,” Wang said. “It's more impactful to hear this literacy and science information from a friend or from a peer or a family member.”

However, a significant portion of the club’s action plan revolves around vaccine literacy for future pandemics, not just the current one.

Wang and her peers intend to run presentations in local elementary, middle and high schools, so as to get ahead of the curve and ingrain vaccine literacy in future generations early.

“[We want to reach] out to these younger demographics and [help] them understand vaccines, so that later on when they become older they have this information and it's understanding that they can bring with them,” she said.

For now, the first step will be panel presentations. The Vaccine Literacy Club will be hosting one such discussion later in September, featuring UBC sociologist Dr. Kimberley Huyser.

“It's really important for us to bring research and development and what's really happening in a scholarly community to the general public, and increase understanding of basic health literacy for everyone and the ongoing understanding that we're all developing together.”