By Christine Valdez
Web Production Assistant
Vaccinations and immunizations have recently become a topic of debate among physicians, politicians and parents. Students within the middle school and high school ranks have been given the opportunity to give their own take on immunizations through a recent contest that was held state wide.
Protect Me with 3+ was a contest launched by Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey and the New Jersey Department of Health, targeting students within the state. Aiming to raise awareness about vaccinations, students were allowed to create their own message on immunizations using different platforms. Middle school students participated using posters while high school students delivered their messages in the form of videos.
Executive Director of Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey Ilise Zimmerman says that with some of the recent outbreaks in various regions, people have been concerned about contagious diseases. She said that the contest gives students a chance to understand and learn more about vaccinations.
“That’s, to me, the most important message that we can give young people because there is a lot of information on the internet but we really have to look at scientists and the medical community to direct us to say what will really keep us healthy,” said Zimmerman. “And I think that young people respond to honesty and that’s what this contest is about.”
Split into the two separate categories between middle school students in fifth to eighth grade and high school students, the start of the contest was announced in October, giving students time to submit and prepare their entries. Within their posters and videos, students addressed four adolescent vaccines — tetanus diphtheria, acellular pertussis (Tdap), human papillomavirus (HPV), meningoccalconjugate (MCV4) and the flu shot.
The contest is in its third year and Zimmerman said that the number of entries increased and that there was more participation from around the state.
“I would say that this year’s is the most successful by far. We’ve gotten a lot more participation statewide,” said Zimmerman. “We’ve had the most diversity in terms of response of particularly which representation or which students are representative of different locations within the state. So we have representation from Manchester Township and Bergen County and Hudson Regional. So it really took off in terms of penetrating different locations.”
When the contest finalists were announced in December, the posters and videos of each finalist were posted online on Protect Me with 3+’s website — leaving the final decision up for a vote. From Jan. 24 up until Feb. 8, people were allowed to look and review each entry to decide on the winning poster and video.
“I think that this is a positive way to give a message to young people that they can feel in control of,” Zimmerman said. “I think that this poster contest and the video contest have proven to be, I want to say engaging and that’s very important in public health.”
Another addition in the contest was the classroom participation component. In an effort to help promote the contest, Protect Me with 3+ wanted to encourage educators around the state to make the contest a classroom effort. Along with the student entries, classrooms would be entered for an opportunity to win a group prize. The classroom with the most eligible submissions in each of the contests categories — poster and video — would be rewarded with a gift card.
Following the voting period, an awards ceremony was held, where the top finalists in the video submissions and poster submissions were awarded.
Zimmerman previously emceed the event during the contest’s first year and said that she was surprised about how much pride the students and parents felt about having participated in the contest.
“I was actually privileged to be the emcee, I think it was two years ago,” Zimmerman said. “There was this tremendous pride by the parents and the students themselves because there are individuals who may be artistic.”
Zimmerman also said she was surprised at all the work the students had done.
“So I was very impressed,” she said. “When you look at the caliber of the videos in particular it takes some thought and creativity, and they have to learn about the illnesses in order to talk about the vaccinations.”
The contest officially came to a close on Feb. 12, as the awards ceremony was held. The top three videos and posters will now be featured on the contest’s webpage. Along with being featured on the website, the winning videos and poster will now be featured in statewide immunization awareness activities.
The winning video was a group collaboration from Cherokee High School in Marlton. The winning poster was from Nayeon Park from Ridgewood. There were also two classroom winners — one from the poster category and another from the video category. A classroom from Terrill Middle School in Scotch Plains won from the poster entries and a class from Henry Hudson Regional took the prize in the video category.
With the feedback and increased number of entries in the contest, Zimmerman said that this type of contest could be used for other messages.
“If this is successful, we can use this for other prevention messages,” she said. “I think that this is one that is particularly timely and I think that the message about protection, immunization is the best protection against getting sick. I think that there’s a lot of illnesses that we don’t have control over. These are illnesses that we can protect our bodies against and that’s why this campaign is so important.”