It's time for New Jersey college students to challenge themselves and their peers in the fight against COVID-19.

The Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey has teamed up with the New Jersey Department of Health to launch the "Step Up Vax Up" video and podcast contest.

The Partnership has always educated middle and high school students about the importance of regular immunizations like influenza, HPV, meningococcal, and now, COVID-19, through contests, said Emily Haines, director of Public Health Initiative at the Partnership for  Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey.

The Step Up Vax Up is a similar contest that challenges college students across New Jersey to raise COVID awareness and promote overall campus health and wellness.

The Partnership's president and CEO, Mariekarl Vilceus-Talty said many college students are resistant to getting the vaccine. Many think they are young and healthy and nothing will happen to them. But she said many young people have gotten seriously ill from the COVID virus. So it's really important these kids receive the correct information about it.

Nowadays, young people are bombarded with so much social media and some of that is misinformation, she said.

With this contest, students attending any New Jersey college or university can either work individually or as a team to create digital content in the form of a video, podcast, or social media post, sharing information about COVID-19 and encouraging their peers to get vaccinated.

She recommends that the students go to the CDC and the state Department of Health websites to get their information.

"The piece should include information about why it's important to get vaccinated, the benefits of getting vaccinated, how to get vaccinated, and addressing this information as well so talking about facts versus fiction around COVID-19 vaccines," Haines said.

The submission deadline is April 1. Students can electronically submit their file directly on the website at www.stepupvaxup.com/submit. Any student who submits entries by Jan. 30 will be entered into random drawings to win prizes courtesy of Step Up Vax Up event sponsors.

Judging criteria, requirements, guidelines, eligibility, general contest rules, what to include and what not to include can all be found at www.stepupvaxup.com.

The grand prize is $5,000 followed by the second prize of $2,000 and a third-place prize of $1,500. Haines also said faculty and staff are encouraged to support student participation for a chance to receive a $1,000 School Staff Champion prize.

The top five finalists will be posted on the website for public voting in April. All winners will then be announced and honored at an awards ceremony in May.

Vilceus-Talty said the cash prizes are wonderful ways for students to get involved in disseminating the facts about the COVID-19 vaccine. The money could help offset the cost of books, students loans, or whatever costs they may incur as a college student.

"Getting the true information from your peers is really exciting and that causes a lot of young people to get involved with spreading information, making us have a healthier community, and making sure that we are all vaccinated," Vilceus-Talty said.

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