Moody doctoral student working to develop COVID-19 Vaccine Curiosity Tool

Kiernan McCormick

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in The Daily Texan's March 5 print edition.

UT doctoral candidate Chelsea Brass is developing a Vaccine Curiosity Tool to help resolve uncertainty about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Brass, a communication studies doctoral student and former doctoral fellow for the Center for Health Communication in the Moody College of Communication, created the Vaccine Curiosity Project, which will feature a collection of eight short videos. 
The videos use animations and voice-overs to explain the function of the COVID-19 vaccine in a digestible format. One video has been released so far, explaining how in some COVID-19 vaccines, mRNA is used to instruct cells to make a protein that recognizes and protects against the virus. 
Brass said she is collaborating with Melanie Connolly, a medical illustrator, 3D animator and marketing director for the Austin Healthcare Council. Brass and Connolly have created a website for the project that will soon be made public. 

Connolly said she and Brass identify concerns about the vaccine and work to find information about these concerns to help clarify misconceptions. 

“People are getting a lot of anecdotal information from friends and relatives, and we’re trying to gather all of those misunderstandings or pieces and then put it all together and address it,” Connolly said. 

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll published in February, 1 in 5 U.S. adults say they will wait to get the vaccine when they have seen it work for others. 

Brass said one of her inspirations for the project came from her friends and family saying they were overwhelmed by the abundance of information they were hearing about the vaccine. 

“You see a lot of stuff about misconceptions, and I feel like it imbues a kind of stigma about being concerned,” Brass said. “So this tool is devoted to being a friendly and empathetic way of helping people with their areas of uncertainty.” 

The project partners with Moody’s Center for Health Communication and the Texas Nurses Association. One of the center’s goals for the project is to find ways to get information about the vaccine to staff who do not always have access to a computer, center director Michael Mackert said.

Mackert said the center is also interested in using the series to inform students about the vaccine when the University begins offering the vaccine beyond the 1A and 1B groups. 

“Part of (the center’s) interest in it is if we plan ahead to some point when UT is doing COVID-19 vaccines for students the way they already do flu vaccines … we can help make sure people really understand what the vaccine is all about,” Mackert said.