The Stephen Hawking Foundation has launched a schools programme to enable children and their families to make informed decisions about vaccinations after routine childhood immunisations fell every year for almost a decade.
The first in a series of teaching aids published today focusses on the COVID vaccine and tackles head on conspiracy theories that have led to limited uptake in some communities. Immunisation coverage for all routine childhood vaccinations has declined in England by 0.2-1% between 2017-18 and 2018-19
Teachers and researchers say this is in part caused by confusing information and unfounded conspiracy theories about vaccines.
The Stephen Hawking Foundation has joined forces with a school in one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country and leading research institutions, Queen Mary University of London and the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene (LSHTM), to devise simple and accurate materials aimed at enabling young people to better understand and question the role of vaccinations.
The programme is the brainchild of Ed Stubbs, a secondary school teacher at Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets, East London, who became concerned at a growing sense of fear in the classroom about vaccinations and the prevalence of ill-informed conspiracy theories.
Mr Stubbs said: “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 partnership with the Stephen Hawking Foundation and LSHTM’s Vaccine Confidence Project has produced learning materials which can be downloaded for free from their and the Queen Mary University of London websites.
The resources support the Stephen Hawking Foundation’s goal to encourage science education. It also builds on Professor Hawking’s family links with the research centre as Professor Hawking’s father was a researcher at LSHTM.
Lucy Hawking, Chair of the Stephen Hawking Foundation’s Trustees, said: “We are so pleased by this collaboration, which aims to help young people gain a better understanding of immunisation programmes. 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, said: “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.”
An immunologist from Queen Mary University of London, doctors, primary school specialists, teachers and students from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds and a prominent member of the Somali community have also fed in to the teaching materials.
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. The vaccine project is the first of a projected series of such initiatives.
For more information, please go to Vaccines – The Stephen Hawking Foundation