Rochester researchers received an award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to address vaccine hesitancy and improve health literacy among middle and high school students.
The one-year project supplements an existing NIGMS Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA grant) that, since 1998, has supported the Life Sciences Learning Center (LSLC). The LSLC, which is located at the Medical Center, offers outreach programs for Rochester students and community members, and gives them opportunities to participate in hands-on science activities. Since its inception, LSLC has received more than $9 million in funding.
The new SEPA grant to Dina Markowitz, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Medicine and LSLC Director, focuses on “One Health” – the connection between the health of humans, animals and the environment. The new NIGMS award will extend those lessons to include COVID-19 and vaccination.
“The driving force behind the project is this passion to start incorporating health literacy and behavior change into the educational material that we're offering for our outreach programs,” said Danielle Alcéna-Stiner, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor at UR School of Nursing, assistant director of the LSLC, and co-investigator on the new project.
Alcéna-Stiner, a graduate of the Immunology, Microbiology, and Virology (IMV) PhD program in the School of Medicine and Dentistry, has a background in infectious disease and continues to work with the members of the Rochester community on HIV/AIDS-related outreach.
The lessons and hands-on activities Alcéna-Stiner and Markowitz create will teach students about how COVID-19 spreads, how COVID testing works, what RNA is and how the vaccine works.
“There's a lot of confusion in the community about what RNA is, what mRNA is and how it works with the vaccines,” Alcéna-Stiner said. “And a lot of hesitancy about taking vaccines, because there's a misunderstanding about what that is and how to understand the science.”
Alcéna-Stiner said the new grant will help youths find reliable information and help them make informed decisions about their health.
Rochester-area teachers, students, and health professionals, including nurses, physicians, and health educators, will be involved in every step of the way as the project develops, beginning with assessments to find out what students already know about infectious diseases and how they learn about them.
Students will then help guide materials and lessons created, which will be both in English and Spanish, and provide feedback through focus groups. Students from the rural areas surrounding Rochester and those within the city will be included in those focus groups.
“We really are trying to get a nice representation of our Rochester community throughout the different groups that we’re involving in the project,” Alcéna-Stiner said. The team is also working with a community liaison to identify and share information with different groups within Rochester.
After testing and tweaking the materials, Alcéna-Stiner and Markowitz will release the materials online so teachers across the country have resources to teach their students about health literacy.