Student Immunization Initiative

The Student Immunization Initiative is comprised of graduate and undergraduate students who advocate for disease prevention and vaccine awareness.

The Student Immunization Initiative is a registered independent organization of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa led by graduate students at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. This RIO is an educational outreach for the community and perform tasks and activities that support formal and informal education outside the classroom.

Public health is defined by the CDC as “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private communities, and individuals.”

Interventions of public health include advocacy and the dissemination of knowledge, education and other strategies. Programs and organizations dedicated to areas of public health such as SII use these strategies for the betterment of the community.

Joanna Kettlewell, president of SII and third-year PhD student at the Department of Tropical Medicine, shared that the organization was formed by a small group of graduate students after taking an immunology class.

“A discussion about the importance of community outreach and public education regarding health and immunizations in an immunology class sparked a desire to volunteer to advocate for immunization,” Kettlewell said. After students participated in an event to promote awareness of hepatitis disease, a formal organization was formed, now known as the Student Immunization Initiative (SII).”

SII partners with the Hawaii Immunization Coalition while organizing and participating in community educational events that advocate for vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases.

Some of their educational events include the annual one-day Mycology Workshop, which is being held this year on Monday, Feb. 11 from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. with keynote speaker and instructor Dr. Nancy S. Miller. This event is an intensive course on medical mycology open to medical and allied health community members, researchers, students and the general public; Professional Acknowledgement for Continuing Education (PACE) credits will be offered, too. This event is supported by the Robert T. Wong, MD Lectureship.

Public events like these are beneficial to the community in sharing the importance of vaccination and disease prevention, and they also help members develop skills in explaining difficult topics to their communities.

“Most of our officers and members have a strong foundation in health and/or science and are excellent at communicating the science behind how vaccines function to protect society from disease,” Kettlewell said.

Although most members participate in biomedical research such as vaccine development, all members are able to share insight on their knowledge of vaccines its various facets.

“Through our community partnerships, educational events, and legislative advocacy, we seek to increase immunization rates in our neighborhoods, schools, and our great state of Hawaii,” Kettlewell said.

According to Kettlewell, promoting public awareness of the importance of immunization and the science behind vaccines is challenging. Due in part to different life experiences and backgrounds others who have preconceived notions of vaccines.

“These beliefs can reduce our ability or our desire to evaluate or accept new information that may in some way challenge our established beliefs. It is important for us as scientists and advocates of science to understand the audience we are speaking to and to be sensitive to a diverse set of backgrounds and viewpoints. If we can succeed in that goal, we are able to have a more constructive dialogue with the community regarding immunizations,” she said.

SII has garnered the support and aid of undergraduate students who have worked closely with the people behind the projects and continues to look for students to join. For more information, visit their website www.siihawaii.org or send them an email at siihi@hawaii.edu.