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Vaxigrants: a $100,000 donation for vaccination imagination distillation

French pharmaceutical multinational Sanofi Pasteur has officially launched a new contest to help four creative, medically minded ideas people spread the protection of vaccination in Australia.

The initiative is called Vaxigrants and it involves the awarding of four $25,000 grants to individuals or groups that come up with an original and workable model to drive vaccinations. This money is intended to help implement the plan, meaning plans can be put into action and people protected from a wide variety of preventable diseases.

Submissions are open until August 8 and there are four broad categories for applicants to investigate:

  • Challenges to access (for example, for Indigenous Australians, out-of-home care children, refugees and asylum seekers).
  • Regular travelers, for business or pleasure.
  • Those with underlying medical conditions (for example, diabetes and asthma).
  • Vaccine hesitant populations.

There is also a fifth, completely open category, meaning interested parties shouldn't feel too beholden to any strident parameters. The organisers of Vaxigrants are acutely aware of the unique perspectives that frontline healthcare service providers have on matters such as vaccination and disease prevention. For that reason, the team is specifically calling on nurses to use this institutional intelligence to devise interesting new stratagems. For example, a previous winner was a mobile flu inoculation service that traversed innercity streets immunising homeless people from the flu.

Russell Jacobson is the general manager of Sanofi Pasteur in Australia. He spoke with Nursing Review about this competition and how out-of-the-box thinkers can see their ideas come to fruition.

NR: How does Vaxigrants work and why do you think it's important?

RJ: It's about finding smart ideas for improving outcomes and immunisations and preventative health measures. There are several categories to inspire people at the sharp end of where things get administered – in clinics and hospitals. They are often the people who have the ideas but they don't often get the voice. They see the challenges and issues they come up against. It's about getting better ways of giving people access to immunisation or improving immunisation understanding and education and outcomes.

Vaxigrants is about giving people a voice. They put their application in with details about their program and it gets judged by an independent expert panel.

Can you talk me through the four categories?

We have to address the challenge some groups and individuals face accessing vaccinations; for example, Indigenous Australians, out-of-homecare children, refugees, asylum seekers. There's one [category] for addressing people who are travelling overseas, visiting friends and relatives or travelling for business – so many people who go overseas don't necessarily think to see their doctor. Also, someone from another country raising children in Australia might think they are safe going back home but their children won't have any natural immunity to some of the diseases the parents have, so they don't think to get them checked, so it could be a program that might help with that.

There is another category for people with underlying medical conditions, so they're more at risk for things such as influenza – people with diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular illness.

Then there's another one for what they call the vaccine-hesitant population: people who might be afraid of being immunised, or of needles.

And that's a large number of people?

Most are just a little bit reluctant, but needles don't hurt really, it's just the thought of it. Also, they might just have the wrong information or perhaps some myths they think are true; for example, people think you get flu from influenza vaccines, and that's not the case. Some people say, 'I had the flu vaccine and I got the flu after it.' Well, no, you probably got a cold and it coincided with that time you got immunised for flu. There are a lot of those myths out there.

Then the final one is an open category. If you've got a freewheeling idea that doesn't fit into the other categories but is worthy of looking at, then please put that forward.

Is the contest just for cold and flu vaccines? Or are there other applicable maladies and ailments?

It's everything. It could be pediatric immunisation for every child in Australia to get coverage for many diseases – like diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, hepatitis B, meningococcal, pneumococcal, measles, mumps, rubella. [Many already] get immunised for all these but there still might be pockets around the country where people are not protected, or certain communities that don't get the coverage they should for whatever reason.

The travelling overseas rubric can be for any illness; it could be for hepatitis, it could be for Japanese encephalitis, it could be for typhoid.

The underlying medical conditions could focus on inadequate adult immunisation rates; there may be people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who have concurrent illnesses but may not have their whooping cough protection up to date.


What tips or advice would you give for people thinking about entering, to help them win one of these grants?

The best tip is don't be afraid to put in a submission, and don't think your idea may not be good enough. Some of the simplest things are often the most effective. Just make the effort to submit an application and you never know.

We don't get thousands of applications, so you're in with a pretty good chance. There are usually about 50–100 applications a year, so there aren't big numbers of great ideas flooding in, unfortunately. But some good ones can still come out of it.

Why is this important to Sanofi Pasteur?

It's worthwhile to help get a lot of these projects off the ground. People can often be in a position where they are stuck in the system and doing things and they've got good ideas but they never get the opportunity to make them come to life. This is a program that does help that, and it could be fulfilling for them to get that project off the ground and see it come to life. To see a good idea get some life breathed into it and to be doing some good in the community – it can be fulfilling for people if they do it.

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