Five area high school students are working on a public health project for Nigeria, but what they do could help Americans who are preparing for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Their goal is to increase TB and measles immunizations in Bauchi State, Nigeria.  To do so, they must convince a skeptical public that the life-saving immunizations are safe and effective.

The project started with Mason High School student Sid Varman, who with his project mates Shishir Annamaneni, Snehil Pulluri, Vansh Patel, and Neev Gupta, are part of the Great Oaks Career Campuses Biomedical Science program. They became active in an internship through the organization Leadership Initiatives, which involves American students in public health activities in Bauchi State.   “We like that this is a new experience,” said Varman.  “We’ve learned biology and chemistry and medicine, but not public health.

“We’re discovering how what we’ve learned applies to communities,” said Gupta.

Of the roughly 100 student teams across the United States, they were the only ones to tackle the immunization issue.

Working online with a liaison to Nigeria, they learned about resistance to the vaccines. “They are naturally suspicious of Western medicine,” said Patel.  “They also don’t trust their government,” added Pulluri, “and many have religious beliefs that make them skeptical.”

The challenge, then, is how to break through those stereotypes and increase immunizations in the Nigerian state of 7 million people.  “We’re brainstorming ideas now,” said Pulluri.  He added that they are about halfway through the year-long project.

“It’s important that leaders in the community that residents trust be convinced,” said Gupta.

They said that a public information campaign would be critical in their project.  To help support that campaign, the students are doing fundraising.  So far, they’ve raised about $900, said Annamaneni.

The students know that they are unlikely to be successful in convincing all the residents of Bauchi State to be immunized, but they believe that they can make a difference in some lives.  “Success would be getting information out and having a few people go in and get vaccines,” said Varman.

“Even having just one or two children inoculated would alter their futures for the better,” added Pulluri.

And though they acknowledge that some of the reasons Bauchi State residents aren’t getting vaccinated may be different from the resistance to mask-wearing and other factors in the current pandemic situation, the students see some parallels.   “It’s eye-opening to realize that developing an effective solution, a medical intervention, is only half the battle,” said Varman.  “The rest is implementing it and getting the community on board.”

“Convincing people that a vaccine works and is safe is critical,” said Pulluri.

They know that this year-long project won’t be the final answer.

“There’s not a moment where we say ‘We’re finished,’” said Annamaneni.  “There’s always going to be more to do, always people who need to be vaccinated, always another health issue to deal with.”

They’ve already made an impression locally.  “They are very dedicated and have a huge heart and desire to help others,” said Great Oaks instructor Susana Maldonado.  “I am so proud of them for what they have accomplished at such a young age, and I can’t wait to see what they will accomplish in their life time.”

But from their classroom and through technology connections with each other and with the residents of Bauchi State, these five students intend to have a broader impact right now.  “It’s empowering,” said Patel.  “We’ve all heard cheesy slogans like ‘You can make a difference,’ but we’re in the process of actually doing that.”

Donations are welcomed.  Go to https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/team1122/

(Donation totals may not reflect matching funds)

For more information about the project:  https://lichangeiip.org/1122-william-mason-high-school/

Instagram: @iipteam1122

Vansh Patel

Vansh Patel

Neev Gupta

Neev Gupta

Snehil Pulluri

Snehil Pulluri

Sid Varman

Sid Varman

Shishir Annamaneni

Shishir Annamaneni