Happy New Year! This spring, I am excited to launch a new course in the Department of Biological Sciences that will immerse USciences students in modern vaccinology. Students enrolled in BS415: Modern Issues in Vaccinology will have the opportunity to actively engage the public and their colleagues in scientific discussions regarding vaccines and immunization programs.
Before I get into details about this new course, I want to take a moment to briefly introduce myself. My name is Stacey Gorski, PhD, and I am an assistant professor of biological sciences here at USciences. I am also an alumna of this University and earned my BS in biology in 2008, before earning my doctorate at University of Virginia in microbiology, immunology & cancer biology. I then worked in vaccine design and manufacturing in Adelaide, Australia before coming full circle, and finding myself back home at USciences.
Using my experience and expertise in immunology and vaccine design, I designed this course to center around a student-driven social media campaign via Twitter and Buzzfeed, as well as original directed research regarding vaccination attitudes within the healthcare profession. Vaccination is considered one of the top three achievements of humankind in regards to improving human health and I have found that students in my introductory ‘Principles of Immunology’ course find the topic both fascinating and thought-provoking. Indeed, the idea that a person can be exposed to modified microbes, without getting sick, and then potentially acquire lifelong immunity is one of the most amazing and fulfilling aspects of vaccinology.
The course will allow students to explore the data behind the current recommended vaccine schedule, discuss the myriad of government programs that are designed to promote and maintain vaccine safety, and explore their own, as well as their colleague’s attitudes and opinions regarding immunization. I believe that vaccination is a cornerstone of public health, and it is important that our future healthcare providers are versed, not just in the science behind vaccines, but also in the political and societal aspects that can dramatically influence immunization policy.
Throughout the semester, students will be tweeting information and experiences surrounding vaccines (@ModernVaccines) to promote vaccine awareness and confidence. In addition, students will be researching current vaccines to evaluate their history, effectiveness and safety profile and will present their findings to their classmates. Classmates will then be responsible for converting the information from these scientific presentations into fun, engaging, and easily understandable information via interactive Buzzfeed articles – that will then also be shared via Twitter and other social media outlets!
While the social media aspect of the course will foster creativity in communication, students will also be responsible for honing their scientific skills by conducting a class research project regarding vaccine attitudes among healthcare providers. ‘Vaccine hesitancy’ is an active area of research within the field of vaccinology that explores the reasons people might abstain or delay vaccination, and it is generally assumed that healthcare providers do not promote vaccine hesitancy; however, this is not an area that has been widely explored. This means the students in this course will have the opportunity to generate their own hypotheses, test those hypotheses and generate original data—with the ultimate goal that the data can be publishable with the students as co-authors.