Resources help pupils to better understand vaccination

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

With routine childhood immunisations falling, a schools programme has been launched to enable children and families to make informed decisions about vaccinations.

The Stephen Hawking Foundation has created the programme in response to the fact that routine childhood immunisations have fallen every year for almost a decade.

Most recently, immunisation coverage for all routine childhood vaccinations has declined in England by as much as one per cent between 2017/18 and 2018/19. Researchers say this is in part caused by confusing information and unfounded conspiracy theories about vaccines.

The first in a series of teaching aids focuses on the Covid vaccine and tackles “head-on” conspiracy theories that have led to limited uptake in some communities.

The materials have been created via a partnership including the Stephen Hawking Foundation, Morpeth School in east London, Queen Mary University of London, and the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene.

The aim is to help young people “better understand and question the role of vaccinations”.

The programme is the brainchild of Ed Stubbs, a teacher at Morpeth School who became concerned at a growing sense of fear in the classroom about vaccinations and the prevalence of ill-informed conspiracy theories.

He explained: “As a teacher previously working in inner-city Liverpool, and now in London, I have noticed students becoming increasingly fearful of vaccination. Some of my students and their families refuse their school vaccinations. I hear incorrect, and 'conspiracy' information shared in my classroom. I fear that students' real and fictional concerns increase UK vaccine hesitancy.

“The charged and often accusatory debate about vaccination choices can make young people feel hesitant about voicing their concerns and seeking help in debunking false information. They fear critical judgement over their doubts. I decided to create a set of unbiased resources for use in schools.”

The resources are designed to promote critical thinking, ask big questions and provide reliable, well sourced information to help school age students investigate complex issues regarding science and society within a classroom setting.

Lucy Hawking, chair of the Stephen Hawking Foundation's Trustees, said: "We are dedicated to encouraging young people to engage with science. This important project aims to encourage school children to think about vaccine research and the progress in this field which is key to saving lives.”

Professor Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, added: “I feel teachers are ideally placed to combat the UK’s falling vaccination rates. This programme has been carefully calibrated to include the insights of some of the leading scientists in this field but to make the information accessible to people of all ages and communities.”

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