GVSU faculty member, students develop COVID-19 vaccine awareness messaging for community

A Grand Valley anthropology faculty member and two GVSU students have worked together on the creation of graphics to address vaccine awareness in the West Michigan community.

The effort led by Kristin Hedges, associate professor of anthropology, is part of her ongoing work with Vaccinate West Michigan, a collaborative that includes college and universities, local health departments, health systems and more. The partnership aims to meet the wide range of needs in the community and share COVID-19 vaccine facts, data and clinics.

The graphics were posted on social media by organizations involved with Vaccinate West Michigan and are available for anyone to use. Go to the Vaccinate West Michigan website to download the graphics.

Vials of vaccine
Image credit - Valerie Hendrickson

Hedges, a medical anthropologist, was joined by undergraduate students Maggie Willson, an anthropology student, and Donovan Lopez, who is majoring in fine arts with an emphasis in graphic design. The student work was funded by the Undergraduate Research Assistant Program administered through the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship.

The messaging on the graphics used information gleaned from open-ended interviews with people who were hesitant about the vaccine as well as those who were hesitant and changed their minds, Hedges said.

"When people are scrolling through social media, we wanted them to see images that could get the messages across based on the concerns and insights we've heard," Hedges said.

While Hedges had warned her Vaccinate West Michigan colleagues in the spring that the initial demand for vaccines would eventually give way to hesitancy, she admitted she was surprised at how quickly the transition happened.

Her conversations with those interviewed have revealed "a lot of undecided in the middle," she said. 

"There is a spectrum of people trying to make the best decision they can at that time," Hedges said. 

That's why it's important to understand the various reasons for hesitancy in that moment, Hedges said. Reasons cited during interviews have included distrust about the health care system, concerns about safety and beliefs about personal choice.

The graphics needed to be able to cut through a lot of information on vaccines, especially since finding quality, trustworthy information can be challenging, Hedges said.

She said Lopez had clear ideas for how to accomplish that goal, including sticking with a square image format that would work across all social media platforms.

Lopez said in designing the graphics, he kept in mind that he needed to find the most effective way to quickly capture the attention of an audience, which he said meant creating attractive designs with simple messaging.

"If you’re scrolling though social media, people will respond to an image with lots of colors and not as much text, rather than a big text wall of information they have seen before," Lopez said.

He said this experience of working with a client, where he was able to explain his design strategy and receive feedback, then see his work distributed by professionals, was "elevating."


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