Taylor Orwig ‘19 recently compared flu vaccination rates in the Worcester Public Schools over a three-year period and concluded an incentive program likely improved rates by 25 percent.
Orwig conducted the research as part of an internship with the Worcester Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Under the direction of Dr. Matilde “Maddie” Castiel, Worcester’s commissioner of Health and Human Services, Orwig was tasked with examining the in-school vaccination data from 43 Worcester schools, ranging from elementary through high school.
Demographics of the students participating in the program were also collected to determine possible racial disparities that could be impacting vaccination rates.
“It is important to examine the groups with low vaccination rates in order to increase their rates in the future,” says Orwig.
Comparing data from 2017, 2018, and 2019, Orwig identified a spike in vaccination rates during the 2018 and 2019 program years.
“Across the 43 schools in the program, the number of vaccinated students has increased over 25 percent to almost 2,800 students,” she says.
Orwig attributes the increase in vaccination rates to the addition of incentives for participating schools. The incentive initiative was launched in 2018 through a public-private partnership between DHHS, the United Way of Central Massachusetts, and the Greater Worcester Community Foundation. Each group pledged funds for the city elementary school, middle school, and high school, with the schools with the highest participation rates receiving new Chromebooks.
“The goal of the [flu vaccine] program is to vaccinate as many students as possible,” she says, “and so incentives for the schools, such as new Chromebooks, will continue to be offered to encourage future participation.”
Orwig presented her findings to the city manager, superintendent of schools, and other city officials.
While Orwig has had to hit pause on her internship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she says that she is grateful for the public health experience she gained in her time with DHHS and hopes it will help her on her path to a career in public health.
“The most rewarding parts about this experience were meeting and connecting with different departments of the Worcester Community–Worcester Public Schools, DHHS, United Way program directors, and many others. Also, it was very rewarding being involved in a community health project that will, in time, increase vaccination rates within the Worcester Public School District.”
As for life after lockdown? Orwig plans to jump right back into her internship and work on projects that address youth homelessness, another pressing issue facing the Worcester community.