Pharmacy superheroes to the rescue!


Emma Murter, Guy T. Seavey, and the Operation Immunization Superheroes.

By Guy T. Seavey, Kale Lemelin, and Emma Murter

Discussing how debilitating preventable diseases can be is sometimes an uncomfortable conversation to have with people. Plus, who likes being stuck by a needle? At the University of Montana Skaggs School of Pharmacy, our Operation Immunization team has the challenge and privilege of educating the local community on the benefits of vaccinating and staying up to date with their vaccination schedule.

But how to do that with materials not considered “fun” or interesting? The time was right for a new team of superheroes to save the day.

Need for a new message

One of our largest events held on our campus every April is the Spring Wellness Fair sponsored by the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center. Our fair booth provides information on the benefits of vaccinating at a young age, showing people how vaccine schedules work, finding out if there are any shots the person currently needs, and usually giving vaccines ourselves.

While having the opportunity to interact with so many people is a great experience for student pharmacists, it can be difficult to make the topic of vaccines engaging, especially to those of the younger population. To help with this, we have covered the classical methods of creating posters, big signs, and even incentives of candy. These are all great, but they tend to just get people to come talk to us for brief, unsubstantial moments. Far too often, families would get a blank expression on their faces once we started sharing information. We wanted a way to not only get the attention of the masses, but for them to be excited to learn about what our message was.

This year’s Spring Wellness Fair presented the new challenge of not having enough nursing staff to provide oversight for the student pharmacists to perform any immunizations. Knowing this, we began looking over our materials. Although everything we have is important information and needs to be used to communicate all the benefits and risks involved with immunizations, we felt it lacked something. So much of what we do revolves around clinical information that can be overwhelming at best and frightening at its worst. Finding a way to entertain and communicate, while remaining informative, was an important goal of ours. This was when the idea of making superhero mascots was born.

Team Operation Immunization

Currently, our pop culture is swarming with superhero movies, games, and clothing. Every kid wishes they had superpowers and looks up to the characters with these superhuman abilities portrayed in the fictional world. Superheroes are all over the media, and what better way to excite a population and community than with our own superheroes? Our superheroes can be used to incite bravery among the younger children being vaccinated or something to look at and relate to during the immunization process.

One of our co-chairs (Guy) worked with a team of artists from the company 2Animators!, and they developed the group of superheroes that represent Operation Immunization and the message of vaccination. 2Animators!’s client list includes MTv, Pokemon, 20th Century Fox, and Rockstar Games, so to have one of the owners create something for us at no charge was huge. 

Throughout the day at the fair, kids were pulling their parents over to investigate what these superheroes were about. For the first time, we could see the interest spark in the kids’ eyes as we explained what Operation Immunization was about. There was no more scurrying away as soon as they looked over the posters and stickers. One little girl even exclaimed, “She looks just like me!,” while pointing at the younger female superhero. While the kids looked over their new superheroes, we took the opportunity to discuss vaccines with the adults. We were able to talk to many more adults about the new shingles vaccine than at past health fairs, and we had many more families check their vaccine history to see if they were all up to date.

It was a wonderful experience, reaching out to our community in such a novel way. It reinvigorated not only our operation, but also our APhA–ASP Chapter to focus on the needs of the community in a new light.