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Friday, July 01, 2022

A gentle encouragement: Art provides new incentive for COVID-19 vaccinations, discussions

A UF-funded vaccine confidence project spreads accurate COVID-19 information

Nicole Villanueva, UF alumna, gets her COVID-19 booster shot at the vaccine drive by OCOH on Monday, March 21.
Nicole Villanueva, UF alumna, gets her COVID-19 booster shot at the vaccine drive by OCOH on Monday, March 21.

Flyers with COVID-19 statistics are being swapped out for artistic displays. 

A UF-funded arts and vaccine confidence project on campus aims to spread accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines as part of a larger campaign. 

In Alachua County, 70% of the population at least 12 years old are vaccinated against COVID-19 as of the week of March 11, according to the Alachua County COVID-19 dashboard

On Tuesday, a blue tent stood in front of a mural promoting unity in getting vaccinated. Students visiting the tent could find snacks, tote bags, free condoms and even Narcan. 

Workers for both the mural project and UF HealthStreet were also surveying students on why they thought their local community was or wasn’t getting vaccinated. They were also guiding students toward the vaccination van that was parked by Library West next to the B’z Gelati food truck.

According to the CDC, the largest age demographic who has yet to get the vaccine are those between the ages of 18-29: the project’s target age range.

With Florida’s vaccination mandate prohibition, 66.22% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated. The number of daily doses administered in the state has slowly dwindled to a record low of 10,257 on March 16, according to Our World in Data.

The event is part of Engaging Arts for Vaccine Confidence at UF, an initiative led by Natalie Rella, to promote vaccine confidence. The initiative granted seven different projects with grants between $3,000 to $10,000. 

Alexandra Rodriguez, a research division intern at the Center for Arts in Medicine, led the mural project “Work COVID Silly, Gators.”

The multi-mural project hosted its first event on Monday and will host its next event on Friday. The project curator, Jenna Horner, artist and Gainesville resident, chose artists Brittany Webber, Cristi Lopez and Amelia Cecilia to paint three murals. Two are outside Library West and the third is at the Springs Residential Complex. 

Flu and COVID-19 vaccines were also available at the event.

A 2021 Georgia installation of public art promoting vaccination inspired Rodriguez to take on the project, she wrote in an email.

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Gainesville artist Lopez drew inspiration from a piece she completed in 2021 commissioned by the Chicago Design Museum and the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Her mural reads “Protect each other,” with five vaccinated people of different ethnicities and genders embracing one another. 

Her piece was inspired by United Colors Of Benetton, a progressive fashion company that used multi-ethnic and disabled models in the 1980s and ‘90s.

“I would hope that these murals can show people that there's a way to promote vaccination awareness in a positive way,” Lopez said. “Because I think the tactics that are used are often shaming, very negative and very guilt ridden.”

Some people are adamantly against the COVID-19 vaccine because they do not like being told what to do, Lopez said. She hopes the murals are a gentle encouragement rather than an order.

The murals will display QR codes with links to a survey about the project’s impact, a guide to nearby vaccination sites and the CDC website.

Exhaustive COVID-19 coverage has also decreased, especially with the Russo-Ukrainian War, Rodriguez said.

“So, to bring about talking about vaccination again in a way that is not stale, I think is incredibly important,” she said.

Last week, UF promoted getting vaccines through art, this time with photography.

On March 21, a vaccination bus with 54 available COVID-19 vaccines was parked on the Reitz Student Union lawn while Dr. Giuliano De Portu, a photographer and UF Health Shands ER doctor, snapped headshots of students who provided proof of vaccination or chose to get vaccinated on site. 

This portrait project was conceptualized by Nicole Villanueva, a UF arts and medicine program alum who wanted to encourage COVID-19 vaccination. Her family experienced firsthand stress from the pandemic due to her dad working as an ER doctor and both she and her parents getting COVID. She reached out to Dr. De Portu and Nicole Morgan, a UF grad student, to help her put the project together.

The team received $5,000 from UF to put on this two-phase project in November, Villanueva said.

Dr. De Portu shot portraits of 20 students, two of which received a booster shot, Villanueva said. These students will receive a free digital copy of their professional headshot.

The organizers will display the portraits along with students’ statements on why they chose to get vaccinated in April.

Villanueva believes the arts are a vehicle to make people relate to messages by presenting information in an easily digestible way. She hoped free portraits would provide an incentive for students to either get vaccinated or raise awareness by having their portrait taken.

“I just hope that it makes people reflect upon everything that we’ve been through as a society,” she said. “When they see the image … it's reflecting on … each person who has been impacted by COVID in a lot of different ways.”

Dr. De Portu has worked as an ER doctor for 11 years, and he said he’d never seen as many people die as he saw with COVID-19.

Vaccines, he said, are a wonderful way that science has allowed people to protect themselves from numerous diseases. He hopes this project spreads awareness among students and helps protect other people from getting sick or dying. 

“Everybody can relate to arts,” he said. “I think arts, to some extent, is more intertwined in the community and maybe sounds more appealing than just a flier with a bunch of data.”

Rebecca Arias, a 29-year-old UF plant science senior, stopped by the vaccination bus after seeing a flier on campus. She received the COVID-19 vaccine last year as soon as it was offered on campus but was looking to get a professional photo done for her career portfolio.

She thought the campaign was a smart way to catch students’ attention.

“In reality, the people that wanted to get vaccinated already did, so now you’re left with people that have made excuses or just not wanted to,” Arias said. “Sometimes you have to give them a little incentive to do so.”

Arias got vaccinated after she ended up in the emergency room for another illness and was surrounded by COVID-19 patients. 

“I could see those people on ventilators … in rooms that have a special pass and negative pressure, and the nurses that were basically in astronaut suits,” she said. “Of course I’m going to get vaccinated. I don’t want to be a part of that.”

Contact Fernando at ffigueroa@alligator.org or follow him on Twitter @fernfigue. Contact Lucille at llannigan@alligator.org or follow her on Twitter @lucillelannigan.

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Lucille Lannigan

Lucy Lannigan is a third-year journalism student from Key West. She works as the health and environment reporter on the uni desk. When Lucy’s not reporting, she loves to paint and spend time outside.


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