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Maine DHHS, DOE launch youth video contest to promote vaccines for children

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The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Department of Education (DOE) are currently accepting 30-second videos from Maine children aged 5 to 17 for a contest promoting COVID-19 vaccinations.

The contest was announced November 3 and came the day after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11.

Like the vaccine for adults, Pfizer’s immunization for children under the age of 12 is administered in a two-dose series, but the dosage is lower for children under the age of 11 than for adults and children over the age of 11.

The youth video contest, which is open to entries until 6 p.m. on November 22, was announced by agency commissioner Jeanne Lambrew at a press conference held jointly with Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah. Would-be entrants are directed to submit 30-second videos they believe will “encourage other children, along with their parents, to get a COVID-19 vaccine.”

On its webpage advertising the contest, DHHS suggests this might include information about “the vaccine’s safety and efficacy or the impact of not getting vaccinated.”

Prizes will be awarded to the schools attended by the first-place, second-place, and third-place winners of the contest. The first-place winner’s school will receive $50,000. The second-place winner’s school will receive $25,000, and the third-place winner’s school will receive $10,000.

DHHS suggests the prize money can be used to “supplement school meals with health treats; purchase playground, classroom, gym, sports, or music equipment; enhance a special school activity; or support a school field trip for all students.” According to DHHS Communications Director Jackie Farwell, the funds for the prizes “must be used on activities to promote the physical or mental health of students.”

The money awarded from the contest comes from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, provided to the state by the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and allotted to Maine DHHS. 

DHHS will announce the winning video entries on December 1 and the Maine CDC will promote the winning videos on social media and in public service announcements. Winners will be chosen according to how they meet the department’s criteria for “originality and clarity of the message, consistency with public health information on youth vaccination, and potential to reach unvaccinated groups, among others.”

Farwell did not clarify what “unvaccinated groups” the criteria intends to target. For the purpose of the contest, she said “unvaccinated groups” refers to “populations that have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Children who submitted winning entries are required to also submit a consent form signed by a parent or guardian. According to Farwell, signed parental consent forms are only required for winning entries because ‘only the winning entries will be publicized.”

According to the contest guidelines, children can produce video submissions either on their own or “as part of a school activity.”  

Farwell dismissed concerns that because prizes are awarded to schools attended by children whose entries are selected as winners, this might incentivize schools to pressure children to participate.

“Children may submit entries on their own or collaborate with their school to submit an entry. There are no contest requirements or specifications about whether entries are prepared during or outside of school hours. Participation in the contest is entirely voluntary,” Farwell said. 

Farwell also dismissed concerns that younger participants in the contest might not understand the concepts they’re being asked to discuss in their entries.

“Children have an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of the benefits of vaccination through their submissions,” she added.

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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