Moses Tetui, Kelly Grindrod, and Nancy Waite from the School of Pharmacy.

The team includes members from organizations across Canada and several University of Waterloo departments. Left to right: Moses Tetui, Kelly Grindrod, and Nancy Waite from the School of Pharmacy.

Decisions about COVID-19 vaccinations often come down to trust.

Trust in peer networks, in the information available to a person and in the health-care system as a whole.

But in an age where misinformation is rampant and science constantly evolves, making informed decisions about vaccination is challenging. To address this, the Public Health Agency of Canada recently announced an additional $14 million investment into the Immunization Partnership Fund, towards supporting projects that dispel COVID-19 misinformation.

Connect, Collaborate and Tailor: Co-Designing Multimedia Tools for COVID-19 Vaccinations is one of these projects. Led by Moses Tetui, a post-doctoral fellow, and Professors Kelly Grindrod and Nancy Waite at the School of Pharmacy, the project is supported by a team that includes health professionals, public health experts, human factors experts, science communicators and community members.

They are set to receive up to$499,935 to expand their work building free, downloadable tools for health-care providers and patients in diverse communities across Canada.

“Building trust in vaccination information is important because without it, we cannot provide responsive public health services to our communities,” Tetui says.  “I’ve been moved by the willingness of community members to engage with us and provide invaluable feedback.”

Working with communities

Vaccine hesitancy has many causes.

For that reason, connecting with vaccine hesitant populations to understand their specific concerns is a central part of the team’s work.

“We see things like mistrust in the medical system, personal value systems, concerns about vaccine safety, and of course, disinformation,” Waite says. “In consultation with communities, we’ve learned how language matters in the resources we build and that we have to factor in information like past mistrust to ensure that our tools are useful.”

The tools have been tailored to suit community needs through word choice and visual design and several have been translated into multiple languages. The team has partnered with the Region of Waterloo Public Health who connect with the local community.

David, Neb and Kristy smiling

Left to right: David Aoki, Director, Infectious Diseases Division, Waterloo Public Health; Neb Zachariah, Health Promotion and Research Analyst, Communications and Strategy Division, Chief Administrator’s Office; Kristy Wright, Manager, Infectious Diseases Division, Waterloo Public Health

“This project is an important step for the Region of Waterloo Public Health to engage with community stakeholders and ensure that we are building programs that meet community needs,” Aoki says. “We are very grateful to the University of Waterloo for involving Public Health in this project to help build relationships and trust between Public Health and our community partners.”

Collaboration across disciplines

The Connect, Collaborate and Tailor team includes graduate students and professors from numerous departments. One of these is Professor Shana MacDonald from Communication Arts, co-director of the qCollaborative, a design research lab dedicated to advancing social equity through public and digital technologies.

Shana and Trevor smiling

Left to right: Shana MacDonald and Trevor Charles.

“Alongside managing a global pandemic, we are also managing what the CDC calls an infodemic of disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines,” MacDonald says. “The consequence is a breakdown of communication between expert scientific knowledge and buy-in for necessary public health practices by some portions of the public. This project addresses this communication crisis by meeting public stakeholders where they are and building on their questions to ensure the best possible information is reaching the most people.”

Professor Trevor Charles, an expert in genomics and COVID wastewater management research from Biology, is another faculty member on the team.

“COVID vaccine disinformation and misinformation are not new, and it has been interesting to observe the similarities to the anti-biotech misinformation in food and agriculture over the years,” Charles says. “This highlights the importance of standing up for science and evidence-based decision-making in all aspects of society.”

Download the vaccination tools

Sharing the resources widely is of utmost importance to the team.

“Vaccine misinformation kills,” Grindrod says. “We continue to see Canadians dying from COVID-19 long after they are eligible for vaccination. It spreads online but it also spreads by word-of-mouth. Working with local communities, we’re creating tools to answer their questions and fit their needs."

These tools are available online and for free on the COVID-19 Resources website. These include:

  • FAQs on COVID-19 vaccinations (English, Russian, Spanish, Mandarin, Farsi, French and Arabic)
  • Information COVID-19 vaccination in children including FAQs, colouring pages, word searches
  • Information for COVID-19 vaccination and fertility
  • Information about COVID-19 vaccination side effects
  • Information about various types of COVID-19 vaccines
  • Guiding documents for health-care providers

This page is updated often, so check back for more resources in the future.

With the contribution from the IPF, the group will continue to target and develop new tools in more languages, conduct outreach to understand local needs, share the tools broadly, and develop partnerships with communities and local public health groups.

If you know a community that is struggling with vaccination issues, the team is always looking to partner. You can reach them by email at cvstudy@uwaterloo.ca