School resources launched to tackle vaccine conspiracy theories

Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent
·3-min read

Schools are to be given access to free teaching materials to help challenge conspiracy theories fuelling vaccine hesitancy in some communities.

Critical thinking tools for school assemblies and lessons have been launched by the Stephen Hawking Foundation to help students discuss their concerns and uncertainties.

Available as a PowerPoint presentation, Are Vaccines Safe? provides teachers and school leaders with accurate, scientific information on a range of frequently asked questions about the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

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The Foundation worked with staff at Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets, east London, who initially devised the materials.

They were then developed with help from Queen Mary University of London and the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, with input from pupils,  teachers, scientists and community representatives.

They have been endorsed by the UK’s largest teaching union, the National Education Union, which will promote them to members, and the race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust.

The resources will be regularly revised to keep pace with the latest scientific developments.

Ed Stubbs, a science teacher at Morpeth School, who came up with the idea, said he has noticed pupils “becoming increasingly fearful of vaccination”.

He said: “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 judgment over their doubts. I decided to create a set of unbiased resources for use in schools.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said school is “absolutely the right place for this conversation to be held”.

He added: “Young people have many questions about Covid and the vaccine, and this is not surprising when they themselves have been so frequently at the centre of its news coverage.

“These brilliant tools are accessible and robust, tackling many of the myths which can build so easily online and within communities.”

Runnymede Trust chief executive Dr Halima Begum said: “This will have a particularly positive effect on young people from black and minority ethnic groups who are often in households where their grandparents and parents rely on good advice from their children, as a result of various cultural barriers in accessing community health support.”

Lucy Hawking, chairwoman of the Stephen Hawking Foundation’s Trustees, said: “Initial feedback shows a warm reception by educators in the UK and, as we hoped, is a useful and productive resource for schools to give students a chance to explore issues around vaccination through asking questions and providing accurate, scientific answers.”