Leicester alumni boost research into student vaccine uptake

Alumni Association Committee Treasurer Simon Green and Doctor Lieve Gies present a sum of £5,000 to Vice-Chancellor Professor Nishan Canagarajah, from the Alumni Association Committee's Convocation Fund.

Research focused on improving vaccine uptake in university students has been given a boost this week after the University of Leicester’s Alumni Association Committee made a generous donation of £5,000 to the University’s Vice-Chancellor Nishan Canagarajah on Monday 21st June. 

Led by academics at the University of Leicester, the COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake Project has been funded to date by the Economic and Social Research Council and aims to utilise evidence from questionnaires and interviews to develop COVID-19 vaccine-delivery recommendations for the entire UK university sector.

In consultation with Public Health England and other stakeholders, it is hoped that the research will ensure the future development of effective policies on vaccine delivery for students whilst encouraging higher uptake among the UK’s student population. 

Professor Christopher Bayliss, Dr Lieve Gies and Dr Manish Pareek are leading the project at the University of Leicester.

Professor Bayliss said: “As an inherently mobile and transient population, university students are among the hard-to-reach groups for COVID-19 vaccination programmes.

“We will see what the data finds, but I suspect that students will vary from vaccine enthusiasts keen to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19 to those who are less inclined to take up vaccines because of perceptions of a lower risk of falling seriously ill with COVID-19. As digital natives, the attitudes of students may also have been shaped by exposure to disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines circulating on social media.”

Dr Gies said: “Achieving a high level of vaccine coverage and immunity among university students is urgent and critical for the long-term control of COVID-19 infections. 

“With universities being a major industry, effective delivery of vaccines to students is essential for the inter-twined goals of economic recovery and breaking COVID-19 transmission cycles.

“A better understanding of students’ pandemic experiences should help the university sector to prepare for future COVID outbreaks.”

Dr Pareek said: “This work builds on the existing £2.1m University of Leicester-led UK-REACH study which is assessing the risk of COVID-19 for clinical and non-clinical healthcare staff. 

“It is vital that students are encouraged to participate in this research so we can develop a deeper understanding of the virus in students and develop strategies to deliver vaccine programmes.”

The initial vaccine-focused questionnaire will be delivered to a large-proportion of the current University of Leicester student cohort, making sure of representative coverage of a range of home and international students. 

Mixed methodologies will be used and survey questions will focus on knowledge of the effectiveness and accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines and, as comparators, vaccines that are critical for protection against meningitis, measles and mumps. 

A secondary set of questions will focus on vaccine complacency and hesitancy and a final question set of questions and subsequent interviews will examine student experiences of discrimination based on race and ethnicity, prejudice encountered on the basis of being a student in a university town and the impact of media and social media coverage on the pandemic. 

Alumni Association Committee Treasurer Simon Green said: “We are very proud that our University alumni have come together to invest in this cause. It is an honour to be able to boost this research which will not only improve the lives of students and the immediate communities which our campuses are part of, but will also save lives.”

Vice-Chancellor Professor Nishan Canagarajah commented: “Our staff, students and alumni are committed to benefiting society. To date, they have played a key role in the fight against the global pandemic and in developing an effective vaccine. This generous donation from the Alumni Association Committee is an important contribution to help us now move forwards in greater understanding of how we can best protect our students and ultimately save lives.”

Each year, the Alumni Association Committee make a disbursal from the Convocation Fund, a permanent endowment established by alumni donations in the 1990s. This year the Alumni Association Committee agreed the Fund should support research into COVID-19 that could help positively impact students.