Vaccinate America: Student organization tackling public health issues on campus

November 05, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Motivating people to get an annual flu vaccination remains a public health challenge. Vaccination is essential to the health and safety of the community, health professionals note, but there are many myths and misunderstandings surrounding the topic. 

Vaccinate America, a registered student organization at Penn State, is working to address those misperceptions. 

The goal of Vaccinate America is to educate parents and college students about the facts and importance of vaccination. Members educate the public with information surrounding vaccination at parent teacher organization meetings around the state, along with promoting Penn State University Health Services (UHS) student flu clinics held on campus annually. 

The organization was founded by Gwen Oliver, a senior molecular biology major at Penn State. Oliver was inspired to start the organization in the spring of 2017 when learning about vaccination in her biology classes. While speaking with other Penn State students, she realized there is a community on campus interested in taking action to promote vaccination and educate the public on the topic. Thus, Vaccinate America was born.

“The club is also a great outlet for science majors who want to get involved with the community and science education,” Oliver said.

Guest speakers, including science professors and public health professionals, can be found at their meetings to educate members on the science behind vaccinations.

Vaccinate America has taken great lengths to fight flu on campus, as college students are one of the most susceptible populations to influenza. Collaborating with Michelle Haffner, infectious disease manager at UHS, the organization volunteers at the flu clinics held in the HUB-Robeson Center throughout the fall semester.

“Group members, along with members from Remote Area Medical Access, staffed tables at some of the clinics, which was a tremendous help during some very busy times,” said Haffner. “It was a gratifying experience to be able to work so closely with a student group that understood the importance of vaccines and shared our goal of promoting the flu vaccine.”

Six student flu vaccine clinics were held in September and October at University Park, with a total of 3,921 flu shots given. According to Haffner, there was a big increase in students getting flu vaccines this year in comparison to previous years, and she believes Vaccinate America’s assistance in helping to promote the clinics contributed to this year's success.

“It is important to raise these questions,” Oliver said. “I want to help people feel good about vaccination.” 

Vaccinate America holds biweekly meetings at 7 p.m. Thursdays in 113 Osmond Lab at University Park. If interested, email to get added to the organization's listserv.


  • Vaccinate America logo
    IMAGE: Vaccinate America
Last Updated November 05, 2019