There is a wide array of opinions on vaccinations in today’s world. Joseph Comber, PhD, associate teaching professor in Biology, developed the course “Vaccines and Public Perception” to delve into science communication and education of vaccines to the public.
“One of the goals of this course is to talk about a lack of basic communication about what vaccines are, why they’re good and what they’re used for,” said Comber.
This course dives into the issues of science communication that may contribute to the small but growing opposition to vaccines, even as more is done to show that vaccines are safe and effective. An aim of the course is to discuss how non-scientists perceive communication surrounding vaccines.
This course is available to all majors, which makes it even more valuable, says Comber. Students of non-science majors contribute a diversity of ideas and opinions which are essential to understanding all perspectives on vaccines. Part of the course work is an opinion paper, to encourage students to create informed stances considering science and other factors.
The course includes lectures and lab components. The lecture gives students a dose of science education as well as constructive conversations, with the goal of understanding how the perception of vaccines can influence decision-making. Comber’s goal is to let the students direct the class by their interests. “If we are talking about the history of vaccination, I let the students dictate how long and how in-depth we want to delve into a topic.”
With the everchanging state of the world, the course aims to follow current news and vaccines. “Each cohort is allowed a unique learning experience happening in real time,” said Comber, who is in his fourth year teaching the course.
In the Spring of 2020, the course studied an emerging virus coming from Wuhan, China and the following year discussed COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. This semester, Comber is discussing communication surrounding mask mandates and inequities in COVID-19 vaccine distribution. For instance, globally, there are countries with very small populations of vaccinated publics, while others are already rolling out booster shots.