VARN2022: Shaping Global Vaccine Acceptance with Localized Knowledge

We are excited to share that the Vaccination Acceptance Research Network’s (VARN) conference, VARN2022, was a great success, setting the bar high for VARN2023! Our inaugural event had over 750 registrants across 76 countries, reflecting the desire from our community and the need for convening around critical vaccination acceptance and demand research, strategies and policy. Over three days, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and the VARN Organizing Committee hosted this free, virtual gathering to promote collaborative exploration of research results from around the globe and to share and discuss key priorities and opportunities emerging across the ecosystem of vaccination programs, policies and practice. 

Find our #VARN2022 recap on Twitter, as well as on, and stay tuned for the full conference report.

Program Updates

Community-Led Strategies to Aid Vaccine Acceptance: Five Case Studies from the Global South

Find key insights from Sabin’s 2020-2021 Social and Behavioral Research grant partners in Community-Led Strategies to Aid Vaccine Acceptance: Five Case Studies from the Global South. The grant partners represent multidisciplinary teams from Mewat, India; Trans-Nzoia County, Kenya; Sindh Province, Pakistan; and the Kambia District, Sierra Leone. 
The goals of sharing these initial results are to:
Provide researchers and program implementers in LMICs with blueprints of successful research methodologies and approaches for piloting and evaluating strategies to combat misinformation and increase vaccine confidence and acceptance in their communities. 

Demonstrate the value of inclusion of these types of approaches and perspectives to sub-national, national and global funders, policymakers and decision-makers. 

Other programming updates

New year — new VARN! We started 2022 off strong with our first conference — where we gained new members — and have plenty of spin offs in the works (new technical working groups and a special publication series). To reflect this renewed energy and focus, you may have noticed that we rebranded VARN. We feel this fresh design better embodies our global network and hope our members agree! 

Sabin’s Vaccine Acceptance and Demand (VAD) team is also growing to further support VARN and VAD’s expanded programming. We are pleased to welcome:

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

At Sabin, we believe in elevating the research of partners in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and look forward to using this space to highlight important topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in global health, the research workforce and immunization research and programing.

One of the aims of Sabin’s Social and Behavioral Research Grants Program is to address the inequities in representation within the global health research workforce through grantmaking to LMIC-based researchers in support of locally grounded research aims, objectives and questions; and the design, piloting and evaluation of evidence-based interventions. Yet there remains plenty of room for improvement in building equity in the health research workforce in both high-income countries and LMICs, particularly through expanded opportunities for women, transgender and gender non-conforming researchers. To that end, and in celebration of Women’s History Month and its International Women’s Day (March 8, 2022), we want to highlight a co-Investigator in our current Grants Program cycle who is working toward equity in both the research workforce and in her community. 

Meet Dr. Aqsa Shaikh, MBBS, MD, an investigator for one of Sabin’s 2021 Social and Behavioral Research Grants Program projects, entitled, Structural Inequities in COVID-19 Vaccine Access and Uptake Among Transgender and Disability Communities in India: A Qualitative Study through Intersectionality Lens. Dr. Shaikh is an associate professor of community medicine at Hamdard Institute of Medical Science & Research (HIMSR) in New Delhi, India, and the nodal officer for the HIMSR COVID-19 Vaccination Centre. She is also the founder and director of a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Human Solidarity Foundation and a co-PI for Sangath’s Transcare COVID-19 Project to study access to health care for the transgender community during the pandemic. She was a co-investigator for Indian clinical trials of the Sputnik V vaccine. As a transwoman, Dr. Shaikh is a key activist in India, having several affiliations with community-based organizations and government bodies, and is vocal about the inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in the transgender community. She was recently featured in the Calendar by the Life of Science which features 48 successful Indian women, transgender and non-binary persons working in various fields of science.

Join us for a Q&A with Dr. Shaikh

What has been your experience of being a transgender woman in the research space? 

People's prejudices about us as transgender persons travel faster to their mind than our words and works. As a transgender researcher, I have been often judged as incompetent for conducting research in a world of researchers dominated by cisgender heterosexual men. It is a daily task to encounter and break these biases and prove ourselves.

I have also had some amazing positive experiences as a transgender person working in the team I am currently working with, which consists of people from various marginalized identities and allyships. I feel heard and valued. Also, it’s a humble learning experience to interact and learn from the lives of underprivileged transgender communities in India whose lived realities are much different from mine. 

How have you seen gender inequities in leadership impact COVID-19 vaccine acceptance? 

The Covid-19 Vaccine Communication in India was driven by the prime minister, health minister, an iconic Indian film industry actor, heads of India's medical organizations, all of whom are cisgender heterosexual males. For a very long period of time since vaccine introduction, women and trans folks were systematically excluded especially with concerns around safety of the vaccines in pregnancy and lactation. It took a long time to cover the gender gap in vaccination of women and trans folks. 

What do International Women's Day and Women's History Month mean to you?

Commemorations like International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month are a time to celebrate the contributions and successes of women in history and current times. At the same time, it is an opportunity to audit the equity of opportunities available to women in all domains of life. It is time to question the leadership and ask for accountability and affirmative actions to correct historical wrongs. While the pandemic saw many women from top political and health leadership to frontline workers show the way, many women lost their jobs and educational opportunities. We need to accelerate our efforts to compensate for these losses and to achieve the goals for an equitable world.

Catch up with all of our grant partners in our new Meet Our Grant Partners page!

News from the Field

UNICEF Social Media Campaign

UNICEF has recently launched its #GiveItAShot U-Report Challenge with the aim of providing key information about COVID-19 vaccines to young people to support informed decision-making and motivation for vaccination. U-Report is a messaging tool that empowers young people around the world to engage with and speak out on issues that matter. In collaboration with UNICEF, U-Report has just launched its eight-week COVID-19 vaccination messaging campaign in West and Southern Africa within six pilot countries (Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa). The challenge was launched with support from Nigerian and South African celebrities and U-Report supporters, Kate Henshaw and Maps Maponyane.

Over the next eight weeks, the goal is to reach out to the 13 million U-Reporters on the continent to join the #GiveItAShot challenge. The program will run until March 23rd. Participants will have the chance to win prizes, so please join, have fun, and spread the word!

Download the Goodwall app or join through U-Report!

Share your work! Want to have your work, event or opportunity featured in our newsletter? Email us at [email protected] with a 100-200 word description and any links or publications for consideration. 

Events and Funding Opportunities

Upcoming Events

Funding Opportunities

  • Pfizer 
    • ​Award Amount: Various
    • Topic: Studies measuring the impact of efforts to overcome vaccine hesitancy and enhance vaccine uptake
    • Deadline: Rolling basis
    • Applicant Region: Global
  • Social Science Research Council (SSRC) 
    • ​Award Amount: $30,000
    • Topic: SSRC’s Research Area Mapping Platform
    • Deadline: March 31, 2022
    • Applicant Region: Global
  • US Department of State
    • ​Award Amount: $10,000-$50,000
    • Topic: Countering Vaccine Hesitancy and COVID-19 Disinformation
    • Deadline: March 31, 2022
    • Applicant Region: Kazakhstan
  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
    • ​Award Amount: Various
    • Topic: Promoting Vaccine Access, Acceptance and Uptake among Children, Adolescents, Pregnant and Lactating Women, and Persons with Disabilities
    • Deadline: May 8, 2024
    • Applicant Region: United States