In 2021, Science North, located in Sudbury, Ontario, launched “Give Vaccines a Shot!” According to the Science North website, the program was created to provide Canadians with “the best tools to understand vaccinations, your health, and grow your confidence in science!”
Larissa Puls, currently Staff Scientist in the Science Program Unit at Science North, transitioned from her role in Education to take the reigns on the “Give Vaccines a Shot!” program.
“During the pandemic, we had to shift much of our content online. The science centre closed for quite a while over the two years of the pandemic. Throughout the first two years, and especially over the last year as vaccines started coming out, the science centre produced in-person and online content about vaccines and COVID-19” says Puls. But the impact desired was still lacking.
That’s when the perfect opportunity happened with the launch of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Immunization Partnership Fund, offering funds in the form of contributions to organizations to increase vaccine awareness. Science North was accepted for funding and so “Give Vaccines a Shot!” was officially born.
Much of the content was produced online to promote vaccine confidence via social media and other digital platforms.
“The goal was to provide participants the tools to improve their understanding of vaccines, increase evidence-based decision making and discern misinformation so that families can make informed decisions as the COVID-19 vaccines become widely available to all Canadians,” says Puls.
“We’re giving people the tools to make their own informed decisions.”
“We use our skills in science communication and the fact that we’re a trusted institute to help increase confidence in the science of vaccination – and it’s not specific to COVID-19. We’ve been dealing with vaccine hesitancy even before the pandemic. Vaccines have become more prominent in our lives in the last two years, so we’re hoping to increase people's confidence in the amazing science of all vaccines,” says Puls.
Content shared by Science North through the program includes monthly infographics and science-based explainer videos, in addition to conversations with experts in the form of podcasts. These are experts in public health and information on vaccines, including collaborations with health units across Ontario and SickKids Hospital. “Through the podcast, we're offering a platform for experts in medicine, vaccines, or immunology to speak to their perspective,” adds Puls, “We’ve spoken with experts on vaccines and pregnancy, Lyme disease, and even wastewater analysis and we bring these folks to our audience online .”
“During the past year, we offered school programs for students in grades 2 through 12. Those were live sessions available Canada-wide. We also contacted teachers who have experienced other online programs with Science North,” says Puls. Some of the content shared includes Instagram Reels and Tiktok as a way to reach a wider audience.
The science behind vaccines is more than many people think
Puls has a high amount of enthusiasm for vaccine technology. “Reading the research on how they developed the vaccine was like candy to me,” says Puls, who has a background in biology and teaching in high schools. “I want others to be amazed by how cool it is to see how all the proteins are created and how you can control the shape of the protein by the molecules you include in it!”
"We also had to take a step back because there is a lot that people don't understand about vaccines and the immune system. Science is simplified for non-scientists, and everything is more complicated in reality. So, it's about finding a way to explain complicated systems simply, but with all the important details, especially regarding vaccines," says Puls, "Our immune systems are all different. We all react very differently when infected by a germ. Vaccines give us a standard reaction to a germ instead of all of us having a different reaction. Because it's standardized, we should create a more uniform immune response with a vaccine instead of being infected by the actual pathogen. It gives us a baseline immunity that natural infection wouldn't give us."
Science North is working towards a goal of reaching 750,000 people and has gotten closer to that goal much sooner than expected. “Our general audience and the scientific community have given really positive feedback. We are here as a resource for all people with questions,” says Puls, “Our goal is not to tell people what to do; rather, we want to provide the tools so people can make safer decisions by themselves. We try to inform people why vaccines will work for them rather than telling folks to get vaccinated.”