Convenience, Information, and Incentives Improve Vaccine Confidence on University Campus

Pharmacist Melissa L. Hunter displays the vaccine administration kits used for the COVID-19 vaccine clinic during Freshmen Move-In Day at the University of Wyoming.

Access to reliable health care information is critical to the fight against COVID-19. “Often, something you read [online] doesn’t have references that you can verify or there is no way of knowing where it came from because anybody can post anything whether it’s true or not. Confirming the truth is important,” said Melissa L. Hunter, PharmD, director of the Drug Information Center at the University of Wyoming (UW) School of Pharmacy. She shares this message with students and community members alike.

Although UW’s outreach has helped combat misinformation, Hunter has found it challenging to ensure that people see the facts and not cherry pick certain things they had heard from social media. “I also tried to find out where people were getting their information, and then redirecting them a lot of times to the reliable sources,” said Hunter. “It’s so challenging because sometimes once someone has an idea in their head, it’s really hard to convince them that it’s not accurate.” Hunter encourages people to get information from sources that can be validated. She also believes that with enough education from reliable resources, most people will make the decision to get the vaccine.

Hunter has learned that making the vaccine convenient for people to get and leveraging incentives increases vaccination uptake. To encourage faculty, staff, and students on campus to get vaccinated, prize drawings were held once weekly. Another vaccine clinic was arranged to take place near a local downtown brewery and coffee shop, where people who got the COVID-19 vaccine could also get a free hot or cold brew and brat.

Prior to vaccinating community members, UW reached out to faculty, staff, and students to encourage COVID-19 vaccine uptake. Funding received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act—more commonly known as the CARES Act—paid for the UW Mountain View Medical Park practice to vaccinate 180 people daily in that facility’s individual rooms. Vaccination clinics were also set up in an old armory building, where nearly 1,300 people were vaccinated in one day. Since faculty and students coming back to campus needed to be tested for COVID-19, they were offered the convenience of getting vaccinated on various occasions such as Freshmen Move-In Day.

UW took extra steps to reach out to the community about upcoming clinics and educate people about all aspects of COVID-19 and the vaccine. “We have a website that is completely dedicated to the vaccine, to COVID-19 cases, and to anything COVID-19–related. We also have a call center available, an email that people can send questions to, radio advertisements, mailers, and UW list serves. We leverage any way that people can get information,” said Hunter.

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The ability to provide vaccine access to the community was due to a dedicated team of volunteers who joined together, sometimes at a moment’s notice, to make it all happen. “We really had a well-oiled machine. And I think it worked well for us because we started small early in the vaccine efforts,” said Hunter. “Since we weren’t allocated a lot of vaccines and initially had a small space for the vaccine clinics, we were able to get our process nailed down before we started ramping it up. By the time we got to the bigger numbers, it flowed really well.”

UW has also deployed faculty and students as “strike teams” to assist with vaccination administration where needs arise outside the local community. “We’ve even gone to Cheyenne to help out a couple of their big clinics,” said Hunter.

To date, Hunter’s efforts through UW have led to about 12,000 doses given to students, faculty, staff, and community members to help the fight against COVID-19.

Learn more about Addressing COVID-19 Vaccine Myths and improving vaccine confidence.