U of W to research vaccine misinformation

Crest, University of Windsor, June 26, 2019. Blackburn News file photo.

The University of Windsor said education is key to addressing hesitancy and misinformation about vaccines against COVID-19 and other illnesses.

The school has kicked off a research project to provide adults with the tools necessary to identify credible information about vaccines. The project is being led by kinesiology professor Dr. Paula van Wyk, with support from kinesiology colleague Patti Weir, nursing professor Debbie Kane, and computer science professor Ziad Kobti.

“The evidence is clear that a large percentage of the adult population is not fully vaccinated for conditions and diseases that have been around for decades,” said van Wyk. “This has been exposed by COVID-19, making these individuals a risk to themselves and the general population.”

The main component of the project is a new website with an interactive quiz testing users’ knowledge of vaccines. There will also be information about vaccines and boosters against various illnesses, such as COVID-19, influenza, shingles, pertussis, tetanus, pneumonia, and others. This information will be distributed in digital and print form, in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin Chinese.

The team will work with local pharmacies and community agencies to fight vaccine misinformation being spread through social media.

“There is a lot of information available, and it can be overwhelming. Not everyone has the critical thinking skills to weigh the validity of the information coming at them,” said van Wyk. “We want to make sure we are providing resources to educate people, particularly adults, about vaccine benefits, booster requirements, and disease risks. What we’re saying is, ‘Here’s the information you may not know.'”

The project is being funded through a $50,000 grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, in cooperation with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. This is one of four grants being received for the project, resulting in a total of $200,000 to cover the project’s costs for one year.