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Francisca OmorodionSociology professor Francisca Omorodion has partnered with local community groups to use social media and public forums to debunk misconceptions about COVID-19 and combat vaccine hesitancy among Africans in Windsor and Essex County.

Project to combat vaccine hesitancy in local African populations

A UWindsor-led strategy to boost vaccine confidence among Africans in Windsor and Essex County will kick off Saturday, Oct. 30, with a free public forum over Zoom.

UWindsor sociology and anthropology professor Francisca Omorodion has launched the project to combat misconceptions about COVID-19 and hesitancy about the vaccines available to control the spread of the virus.

“Studies have shown that racialized groups tend to have higher risk perceptions of the vaccine and the potential effects on their bodies because of their mistrust of scientists, the medical community, and government,” Dr. Omorodion said.

Saturday’s public forum will feature guest speaker Josephine Etowa, a nursing professor at the University of Ottawa. Dr. Etowa, who was born in Nigeria, specializes in how visible minorities are treated by Canadian healthcare.

It’s the first part of a year-long project called ICOVAC that will include a second public forum, workshops, and a social media campaign, with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Information will be available in both English and French.

Omorodion, who is also a native of Nigeria, said she is recruiting people of African descent to reach out to the local African communities through the project.

“We think people will be less wary of the vaccine if they hear it from other Africans they can trust,” Omorodion said. “They will accept the person is being honest with them. This will help reduce suspicion.”

She said the guest speakers and leaders who will help develop messaging and content for the project are already aware of the cultural norms and apprehensions of the African population.

Omorodion said misconceptions about the virus and the vaccines are especially dangerous for racialized populations in which underlying medical conditions are more prevalent.

“A perusal of the daily news shows that COVID-19 is fast becoming the disease of the unvaccinated,” she said. “COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to reduce not only the number of persons contracting the disease, but the hospitalizations, complications, and mortality are significantly reduced among the vaccinated. We need to increase the uptake of the vaccines among the African population locally.”

Omorodion has partnered with such local groups as the African Community Organization of Windsor, the Nigerian Community Organization of Windsor, the Somalia Organization, the African Women Association of Windsor, Windsor Women Working With Immigrant Women, and the YMCA to spread the word ot about the project.

The project is funded through a $50,000 grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada in conjunction with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The funding is part of a federal initiative to encourage vaccine confidence.

It's one of four grants awarded to researchers at UWindsor, for total funding of $200,000.

UWindsor’s Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation is contributing an additional $10,000 to the project.

The project will be the subject of research Omorodion expects to publish next year.

The Saturday event runs 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Zoom. Access information is available on the project’s social media accounts:

For more information about the project, email ICOVAC@uwindsor.ca

—Sarah Sacheli