Michigan Vaccine Program educates residents and shares accurate information about vaccination

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Michigan has continued to have lower vaccination rates against COVID-19 than the national average. 

According to 2023 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 63 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, compared to the national average of 69 percent.

In 2021, Michigan State University Extension -- an organization that aims to help Michiganders improve their lives through education -- sought to increase those numbers by establishing the Michigan Vaccine Program (MVP) in partnership with the CDC and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). 

MSU Extension Immunization Health Extension Specialist Maggie Magoon said misinformation spread about COVID vaccines has polarized the nation and led to the mistrust of other immunizations. 

A Michigan Vaccine Program book reading.“That is really a concern for children and [especially] families with children and with older adults,” she said, “because if the children aren’t immunized, of course, the other adults can give them infectious diseases they can spread then to other children and older adults who are at risk or immunocompromised.”

Funded by a $7 million grant from the CDC and the MDHHS, the three-year program focuses on statewide education and outreach, using in-person programming and media campaigns to share accurate information on vaccination.

The in-person programming is targeted to people of all ages, with coordinators going into community organizations and schools to educate on vaccines, plus a youth ambassador program where students are trained to share vaccine information with their peers.  Also created was the Physician Peer Education Project on Immunization, which travels throughout Michigan giving immunization updates to practicing physicians and their staff.

“[Our goal is to] provide that education with the understanding that we may not change everybody’s mind, but just making that information available to them,” Magoon said. 

For general adult outreach, coordinators give presentations, answer questions and share take-home resources.

Alyssa Maturen, a supervising educator with the program, said it’s largely elderly adults who attend the events, looking for clarification on the safety of vaccines and how to access them. Maturen said officials try to make the presentations conversational and ask the audience a lot of questions about their own experience and knowledge of vaccines.

“It’s a pretty good mix of people who are excited to have you there and excited to talk about it …,” she said, “and there are some that just want to debate vaccines and are not really there for the information.”

Polio is a frequent topic of conversation, with attendees often reminiscing about lining up to get that vaccine when it came out in the 1950s, Maturen said. Before then, the ancient disease crippled thousands of Americans every year and was eventually eradicated in the United States in 1979. 

An outreach effort of the Michigan Vaccine Program.One of the biggest takeaways, Maturen said, is how many older adults are confused about where to find reliable sources of information, often putting too much trust in social media. She said her team will discuss bias in the media and direct audiences to reliable, non-partisan sources for accurate information.

With those who only want to challenge the effectiveness of vaccines, Maturen has trained her staff in providing evidence-based information without inserting personal opinions and how to de-escalate hostile situations and guide people to additional resources, she said.

The number of people challenging their presentations has gone down.

“It’s not as inflammatory,” she said. “It’s been around for so long, they kind of got their initial thoughts and anger out about it already, and now it’s just part of something that they disagree with or agree with but not worth fighting about.”

For the youngest generation, program coordinators work in schools and youth programs with a range of materials and presentations targeted to those aged 5-18. The activities often have a general health focus, like explaining the importance of hand washing and visiting the doctor, with a tie-in to vaccines.

Younger kids learn through play and activities with things like word searches, books, coloring books and games.

Maribel Richards, a Mecosta County-focused youth and family health program instructor with MVP, said she likes to play the “gloves off” challenge with middle school students to teach them about personal protective equipment. In the game kids spray shaving cream on their gloves then try to remove them without getting shaving cream on themselves. 

Promoting the Michigan Vaccine Program.
Megan Wilczynski, the Extension’s Branch County 4-H program coordinator and MVP program instructor, teaches kids to make cells with play- doh or discusses vaccines and herd immunity in animals when speaking with 4-H programs. She said hasn’t experienced the pushback others have had with adults.

“Kids are just excited to learn [and be] hands on,” she said. “‘Oh, I didn’t know that’ is usually what I hear.”

Older kids have the opportunity to work with a “Germ-O-Scope,” a homemade version of a microscope that helps them to understand diseases on a cellular level. 

Richards said she too hasn’t experienced much negative pushback since beginning the job a year ago. She said she’s especially gotten a positive response from the seniors in the Mecosta Osceola Career Center Certified Nursing Assistance Program. 

“Every time that I’ve gone into their class, they seemed very attentive,” she said. “Some of them ask questions, and I’ve gotten feedback from the teachers saying that they really liked having me be there and some of them have said that they’re excited that I would come back.”

On a digital level, the MVP is active on seven social media channels and has used a series of public service announcements, webinars, podcasts and traditional advertising to share information.

While data is not available that correlates MVP to statewide vaccination rates, Magoon said social media stats and audience feedback have shown positive results. 

She said their social media campaign has generated more than 1,000 followers, more than 500,000 impressions -- the number of people who see the content -- and more than 50,000 interactions, which measures things like comments, likes and shares.

“The last [number] is really a strong indicator that content connected,” Magoon said.

She said the webinars have also shown effective results. She said, following the webinar, 96 percent of unvaccinated participants reported they were more likely to get themselves and their children vaccinated, 96 percent said they felt more confident vaccines would protect them, and 100 percent reported an increase in knowledge.

For the in-person programs, she said 85 percent of Youth Ambassadors and youth and adults participating in vaccine awareness and educational programming reported an increase in knowledge about vaccines. 

The program will end in June, but Magoon said the Extension will continue the immunization education programs they had before MVP, and incorporate aspects of the program into other grants, presentations and scholarly work. 

Though the COVID crisis may be “over,” Magoon said the need for education isn’t. 

“The public health emergency is over, but COVID still exists,” she said, “and the vaccinations and updates are still recommended.”

Erica Hobbs is a writer based in Detroit with a passion for arts and culture and travel. She has reported for numerous news outlets including the Detroit News, Fodors, Business Insider, Reuters, WDET and AnnArbor.com (now the Ann Arbor News), among others.
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