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Ruobing Li Receives Pfizer Grant for COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Research

Ruobing Li
SoCJ Assistant Professor Ruobing Li

Ruobing Li, an assistant professor of mass communication at the School of Communication and Journalism (SoCJ), recently received a $100,000 grant from Pfizer to research COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.

“The project will offer valuable insights for researchers and public health practitioners and help them better understand the causes and effects of vaccine hesitancy,” said Li. “This work can help to create more effective COVID-19 vaccine campaigns, with the ultimate goal of ending the pandemic and saving lives.” 

Li has been researching vaccine hesitancy for several years, and previously won a grant from Stony Brook University for her research into vaccine hesitancy and media exposure. The Pfizer grant will allow her to conduct a meta-analysis, a cumulative study of prior research done to derive conclusions from a field of research, on the various factors that cause vaccine hesitancy across a wide range of demographics, socioeconomics, educational levels and behavioral responses.

“Among the large number of factors that may contribute to an individual’s vaccine hesitancy, we will be able to tell other researchers what are the most influential ones for each population or subpopulation,” Li said. “And we can also identify important moderating variables that could tell us how different factors predict vaccine hesitancy differently to resolve some of the conflicting findings that exist in the vaccine hesitancy literature.”

“COVID-19 has claimed many lives, so we’re particularly interested in examining what groups/subgroups of people are reluctant to get vaccinated,” said Micheal Vafealdis, assistant professor of public relations at Auburn University and Li’s partner in the project. “By analyzing the existing published research, we aim to provide a better understanding of the structural and social barriers that contribute to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.”

“I look forward to starting the project in collaboration with Dr. Li and Dr. Vafeiadis,” said Fuyuan Shen, a researcher at Penn State and mentor of Li’s. “COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy poses a real challenge to public health. The grant will allow us to gather evidence from a range of sources and investigate the complex individual and social factors that cause vaccine hesitancy. I hope that the project will provide valuable insights for future vaccination campaigns.”

By learning more about those who tend to be vaccine hesitant, Li and her colleagues seek to help inform researchers, policymakers, communications experts and others about the underlying factors of COVID vaccine hesitancy and how best to address them. 

“Though the worst of the COVID pandemic may have ebbed, the lessons we can and must learn are critical for our society and public health,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “Vaccine hesitancy and skepticism is not going away, and the work Ruobing and her colleagues are doing to help understand these issues will help us better communicate and engage all segments of society in the future.”

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