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Fort Lewis College students battle vaccine misinformation with public health campaigns
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DURANGO, Colo. — There are many common misconceptions about the trio of COVID-19 vaccines currently available to the public. Sara Newman’s public health students at Fort Lewis College learn all about them while distributing COVID-19 safety information to their peers on campus.

Newman is an assistant professor teaching public health. Her health communication campaign course allows students to design, implement, and evaluate their own public health campaigns. The topic of this year’s campaign is, not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Fort Lewis campus is incredibly student-focused and driven,” Newman said. “Everyone—all the way up to the entire chain to administration, all the way down to students— have let students drive COVID awareness on campus.”

Fort Lewis College was the first institution of higher learning in the state—and one of the first in the nation—to require vaccines for students in the fall. Since the Fort Lewis announcement, Colorado College, the University of Denver and the major public universities in the state have confirmed they will also require vaccinations.

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Alexis Talayumptewa and Jojo Lutz are public health majors in Newman’s class.

Talayumptewa said she created a flyer for her campaign that displayed detailed information about the different vaccines available. She then distributed the flyer to several groups on campus. Talayumptewa told Rocky Mountain PBS that from her research, her peers are primarily skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccines because of misinformation.

“Communication brings safety to everyone. Communicating about the vaccine helps with all the hesitancy that’s going around. I found that discussing the common misconceptions about the virus helps comfort other people if you talk about the vaccination,” Talayumptewa said. “I hear a lot of students saying they’re not going to get the shot because they think something bad is going to happen to them. I’ve also heard that many students still think this pandemic is a hoax.”

Lutz is not only a public health major but also a student-athlete. Lutz focused her project on informing her fellow athletes by asking them to take a picture wearing masks and posting it on their social media accounts. Lutz further explained to RMPBS that she found many students steer away from the vaccine due to various reasons, like superstition, culture, or even as an act of rebellion.

Lutz believes that student-athletes are leaders on campus and can significantly impact how their peers can perceive COVID-19 safety protocols.

“I think one of the main reasons that athletes decide not to wear their masks in the athletic training room is because they are working on physical therapy. I’ve noticed some wear their mask below their nose. Because of this improper mask-wearing, my biggest focus is informing athletes to make sure their mask covers their nose and mouth,” Lutz explained. “I want student-athletes to understand that proper mask-use should be expected on an off-campus.”

Jennifer Lowell, an associate professor of public health at Fort Lewis, said she is proud of the school, students, and faculty for playing their part in keeping people on and off campus informed about this pandemic.

“Public health is a team sport,” Lowell said. “What we do as individuals is essential, but we all have to work through this as a team and remember that everything we do and every step we take also keeps our community safe.”

Joe Kinneen, a student at Fort Lewis College, produced the below video after speaking with his peers about why they're getting vaccinated, and what they're looking forward to most in a post-pandemic world.

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Fort Lewis College students share their thoughts on receiving the COVID-19 vaccine

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