LSC 515 students create social marketing campaigns to encourage COVID-19 vaccination at UW-Madison

An unprecedented year can lead to unique opportunities. This spring, Life Sciences Communication Associate Professor Bret Shaw and students in his capstone course took on a timely project to support campus efforts in encouraging students to get the COVID-19 vaccine. LSC 515: Social Marketing Campaigns in Science, Health, and the Environment is a senior capstone course in LSC that focuses on the development of behavior change campaigns by partnering with an outside client.

vaccine syringes in cup
Doses of the Moderna shot waiting to be administered during a COVID-19 vaccination clinic conducted at UW-Madison on April 1, 2021. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

This semester, LSC 515 worked with University Health Services (UHS) to create a COVID-19 vaccination campaign. “This campaign is intended to encourage students who haven’t yet gotten vaccinated to do so,” said Brianna Van Matre, teaching assistant for LSC 515.

“This pandemic has been the most significant societal event of our lifetimes,” said Shaw. “Having students in this senior capstone class put into action the many theories and methods they’ve learned during their time with LSC to make recommendations about how to encourage students to get vaccinated for COVID-19 is a huge benefit for University Health Services and campus as a whole.”

The process to create a campaign for UHS followed the same process as is practiced in other well-planned campaigns. Students began with a literature review on prior vaccination campaigns. Next, the students developed a script and conducted qualitative interviews with other UW-Madison students, and collectively analyzed the interview transcripts conducted by their peers. These one-on-one interviews then informed the development of a quantitative survey designed for all UW-Madison undergraduate students.  

The survey was distributed online and after a week, 545 responses from UW-Madison undergraduates who had not yet been vaccinated were collected. Of those that took the survey, 75% said they would definitely get the vaccine. Based on the data, the campaigns were developed to  primarily target the 22% of students who had not made up their minds yet, also known as “fence-sitters.”

Vacation buttons and stickers a table as University Health Service (UHS) nurses vaccinate people at the Nicholas Recreation Center at UW-Madison on March 10, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

LSC student Brooke Verfuerth and her group were heavily focused on the ethics component of vaccine accessibility. “We really wanted to come at it from a point of looking at equity and inclusion,” said Verfuerth. The pandemic highlighted disparities in our healthcare system including the fact that marginalized communities are often underserved when it comes to vaccine roll-out. Therefore, Verfuerth’s group planned to target different student organizations, such as the African Students Association, to reach underrepresented groups in their team’s campaign plan.

At the conclusion of the semester, groups pitched their campaigns to UHS with the aim that some of their ideas would be incorporated into UHS’s own communication plans to encourage UW-Madison students to get vaccinated for COVID-19. “It’s been really cool to help the university return to normal, and it feels like a gift to leave to the school and to all the other students, too,” said Verfuerth, who graduated this spring.

Story by Jori Skalitzky, LSC B.S. ’22 and LSC’s 2020-21 Lenore Landry Scholar