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Keeping Vaccination in the Conversation

Vaccines do not save lives; vaccinations save lives.

This statement has never been more pertinent as the COVID-19 pandemic brings about a backslide in routine immunizations, leaving children and adults at risk for vaccine-preventable illnesses, including diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Many cross-sectoral actors play a role in achieving vaccination; from research and development (R&D) scientists testing products through clinical trials, to global institutions like the World Health Organization working towards vaccine equity, to local health workers administering doses. Vaccination requires communication, coordination and collaboration across sectors, with each filling their niche. However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach towards vaccine acceptance and uptake. Understanding and amplifying community-level perspectives are critical for effective and appropriate responses.

The Vaccination Acceptance Research Network (VARN)

The Sabin Vaccine Institute’s (Sabin) Vaccination Acceptance Research Network (VARN) brings together multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral stakeholders to share and disseminate social and behavioral science insights impacting vaccination.

In March, Sabin hosted its inaugural VARN conference, “VARN2022: Shaping Global Vaccine Acceptance with Localized Knowledge”. The value of such dedicated dialogue and multi-level knowledge sharing was clear, with over 750+ participants across 75+ countries having registered for the conference. Global health decision-makers, vaccination program implementers, academics and researchers were able to convene and identify key priorities to guide future vaccination acceptance research agendas and action.

Insights from VARN2022

A common thread within discussions at the VARN2022 conference was the disconnect between willingness to vaccinate and vaccination. In other words, an individual with intent to vaccinate does not always reach the point of vaccination. While it seems these two would be part of a natural continuum, they are each influenced by different factors. Drivers of vaccination behavior can be associated with equitable access, different policy recommendations for high-risk groups, appropriate health messaging, behavior change research and more.

This was an issue raised often at the VARN2022 conference, especially in Yale economics professor Dr. Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak’s presentation, Last-Mile Delivery of COVID Vaccines: Field Trials in Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, and India, and UNICEF Eastern and Southern Regional Office Behaviour Change Specialist Helena Ballester Bon’s Presentation, Behavioral and Social Drivers of COVID-19 Vaccination in Health Workers. Dr. Mushfiq Mobarak discussed lack of vaccine accessibility as one of the many reasons why vaccination rates are lagging in low- and middle-income countries. In Sierra Leone, it takes roughly three hours to get to a vaccination center each way, with the trip costing nearly four times a full day’s wage. Often, as Dr. Mobarak pointed out, high-income countries, which manufacture vaccines, incorrectly interpret the lack of access to vaccines as a lack of vaccine acceptance or demand within LMICs.


Similar to Dr. Mobarak’s findings, Ballester Bon found in her research in South Sudan that some individuals who wanted to get vaccinated, reported access issues in terms of time, convenience and cost of travel to the vaccination site. She recommends widely publicizing when and where people can get vaccinated, promoting a day off for vaccination, extending and creating flexible service hours, and developing interventions aiming at improving access for the elderly. Listening to these perspectives and experiences from the community level are vital in closing the gap between intent and act of vaccination.

Using our platform

The dialogue continues as we use our platform for transdisciplinary and community-driven knowledge sharing to inform effective vaccine acceptance and demand strategies. Sabin is committed to amplifying insights from VARN2022 through the release of our upcoming conference summary report and public access to recorded presentations. Join the VARN for updates on future events and findings from network.

In addition to VARN2022, opportunities to continue elevating pressing vaccination acceptance and demand issues are critically important. From April 18-21st, the World Vaccine Congress will be held in Washington, D.C., gathering leaders in the pharmaceutical industry, government, multilateral organizations, and research institutions to discuss R&D and strategic partnering for the global vaccine industry.

If you are attending the congress, be sure to catch the following sessions:

  • Wednesday, April 20th, Vice President of Vaccine Innovation & Global Immunization Stacey Knobler chairs the all-day session, Market Access
  • Wednesday, April 20th, Director of Research, Kate Hopkins, presents on Emerging Insights from Sabin’s Vaccine Acceptance & Demand Initiative
  • Wednesday, April 20th, VARN member and Deputy Director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Rupali Limaye joins a panel discussion on “How have we made progress in the fight against scientific misinformation?”
  • Thursday, April 21st, VAD’s Director of Advocacy and Outreach, Vince Blaser, chairs a half-day session on Vaccine Safety



Meredith Dockery

Meredith Dockery is an Associate with the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Vaccine Acceptance & Demand Initiative. Prior to joining Sabin, Meredith completed a six-month internship with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). At PAHO, Meredith split time between the COVID-19 Incident Management Support Team and the Public Affairs Team. Meredith received her BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Public Policy and Business Journalism with a minor in Spanish for the professions. Meredith was a member of the UNC Health and Human Rights Working Group through which she conducted research examining human rights frameworks and global health governance at the intersection of international law, public policy and global health as well as contributed to the UNC COVID-19 Health & Human Rights Monitor. Meredith also contributed to Type 1 Diabetes research studying the impact of specific goal setting on glycemic control during her time at UNC by coding goal setting sessions.
Meredith Dockery

Nick Boehman

Nick Boehman is an Associate with Sabin’s Vaccine Acceptance & Demand Initiative. Nick provides programmatic support and assists with research needs across the VAD team. He earned his BA in International Relations from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Prior to joining Sabin, Nick worked as a Program Associate with a CGFNS International, a global health NGO, in a role that was highly research and reporting focused. Prior to that, he interned with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in Austria, where he gained experience in relationship building with external programmatic stakeholders, and researched, designed, and implemented ICAN’s first, major social media campaign to raise awareness of ICAN’s mission. Having also obtained a minor in film, Nick is creative by nature, and seeks to use that creativity in his everyday work to advance Sabin’s mission.
Nick Boehman

Abigail Quinn

Abigail Quinn is currently a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, where she studies Global Public Health with double minors in French and foreign affairs. She is also a first-year in the Master’s of Public Policy Program at UVA where she focuses on healthcare policy. She is originally from Norwell, Massachusetts. At the University of Virginia, Abigail holds a variety of leadership positions, from working on a student-run research podcast to tutoring fellow students in French. She was recently published in the Virginia Journal of International Affairs with a paper discussing regional disparities in female healthcare access in India. She is always eager to engage further with global health equity and vaccination research.
Abigail Quinn

Cassidy Howell, MPH

Cassidy Howell has worked for the past three years with the Sabin Vaccine Institute to translate vaccine and vaccination research findings and evidence into tailored and accessible messages for a variety of key audiences, including health professionals, policy and decision makers, thought leaders, funders, educators and students. Prior to her work with Sabin, Cassidy supported the monitoring and evaluation of infectious disease programs in Guinea and Malawi. Cassidy received her MPH from George Washington University and her BA in International Studies, with a focus in Anthropology, from the University of Florida.
Cassidy Howell, MPH
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