Exploring Packback: General Microbiology Students Discuss Vaccines

General Microbiology students at the University of Illinois at Chicago are focused on applying information from lectures and outside research to real-world scenarios. Each week the class uses Packback to share and discuss hot topics in science. One of the most active discussions explored how vaccines are perceived, their effectiveness and why some people distrust vaccines.          

After learning about vaccines in class, one student started the conversation by sharing this video from Mayo Clinic Radio on the ineffectiveness of the December 2017 flu vaccine and asked, is it still necessary to get vaccinated even if a vaccine isn’t effective?

Scientists create flu vaccines based on which virus strain they predict will be most prevalent during the upcoming season. In December 2017, according to a student-linked article from the Chicago Tribune, the prediction was inaccurate, causing severe outbreaks in at least four states. However, as shown in an NPR article and infographic from another student [see below], even when a flu vaccine is ineffective, it still provides protection to some flu strains and helps symptoms to be less intense.

As one curious student explains, vaccines reduce the risk of a person contracting a disease by developing an immunity, which in turn limits widespread outbreaks. While there are many benefits to vaccines, another student noted that some vaccine ingredients may cause life-threatening symptoms, especially in young children and the elderly. This fear of vaccines has led to a rise in parents refusing to vaccinate their children for diseases such as the measles and prompted one student to ask if parents are refusing vaccines, how susceptible are they making their children to serious illnesses?

In an attempt to understand different viewpoints from anti-vaccine parents, one student shared a video and a link to an article on the eight most common reasons people fear vaccines. While the main concern for most parents is safety, other concerns include affordability, religious practices or distrust in pharmaceutical companies.

Understanding that a major contributor to skepticism is a misunderstanding of how vaccines work, one student shared a video along with an image describing the science behind vaccines on a cellular level. The response explains that although vaccines mimic an infection, they do not cause an illness and severe negative reactions are rare.

Through their understanding of class materials and sourcing from credible outlets, these General Microbiology students were able to identify and discuss different viewpoints on the effectiveness and safety of vaccines.

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