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Lesson Ideas

5 Science Articles about Vaccination

Kids in middle school and high school may be too old to remember their early childhood immunizations, but they’re old enough to be exposed to misleading anti-vaccination literature and videos online about the safety of vaccinations. We want to help you teach them how vital vaccines are in stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies that it can later use to fight infection. In fact, vaccines save millions of lives every year.

This collection of adapted research articles introduces students to research on vaccination. Engage students with standards-matched adaptations, introductory video content, comprehension questions, and vocabulary to further the lesson outcomes. Each adapted article also comes with additional suggestions for activities to enhance the readers’ understanding and make the class more exciting.

1. Why do measles survivors get sicker?

Abstract: Measles is one of the major causes of death among children, even though there is a safe and effective vaccine against it. In fact, because fewer people have been getting vaccinated, the number of people dying from measles is increasing. Even if those who catch it survive, they tend to get sick more often than those who have never had the virus. Why is that? We wanted to find out about the long-term effects of measles on the immune system – perhaps they would hold the answer. We collected blood samples from 77 unvaccinated children before and after they got infected with the virus during an outbreak in the Netherlands. We tracked the changes in antibodies (the particles that fight off pathogens) in the children’s bloodstream. We found that measles wipes out up to 73% of these antibodies, leaving the children unprotected against other diseases for months, and sometimes years. These findings further show the importance of vaccination. 

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students. Available in a blackboard video format:

  • Key terms: disease control, immunity, infectious diseases, microbiology, outbreak, vaccine
  • Scientific figure: box and whisker plot
  • Scientific method: case study, data extrapolation, DNA sequencing, ELISA, experiment, representative sampling

2. Why get vaccinated when the flu vaccine doesn’t work well?

Abstract: Have you ever had the flu? Most people recover from it pretty fast. However, the flu still kills thousands of children and adults each year. This makes it a big health problem across the world. The best way we can prevent flu infection is by getting vaccinated. The problem with the flu vaccine is that in some years it doesn’t work as well as others. For example, in 2017-2018 the flu vaccine was less effective in preventing infection among vaccinated people compared to previous years. We wanted to study the impact of less effective vaccines in preventing flu-related infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. We found that even when the flu vaccines don’t work well, they prevent a large number of people from getting infected or hospitalized and save thousands of lives. This effect is called herd immunity. We also learned that when vaccines are less effective, it is most important for school-age children, young adults, and the elderly to be vaccinated.

This article is suitable for middle school students.

  • Key terms: immunity, microbiology, outbreak, vaccine
  • Scientific figure: bar graph, histogram
  • Scientific method: scientific modeling

3. How can we prevent cervical cancer in Mongolia?

Abstract: Have you ever heard of cervical cancer? It’s one of the most common forms of cancer among women. Most of the cases occur in countries with lower incomes and fewer resources. The leading cause of cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV). There are several effective vaccines against HPV. But introducing them in the vaccination calendar could cost a lot. Would it be worth it? We used a mathematical model to see if HPV vaccination would be cost-effective in Mongolia. It helped us estimate the benefits and costs of introducing an HPV vaccine there. We found out that it would cost between $2.4 and $3.1 million (USD) but could save nearly 4,000 lives! We believe that introducing HPV vaccines in Mongolia would be cost-effective.

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students. An audio version is available.

  • Key terms: disease control, immunity, infectious diseases, microbiology, vaccine
  • Scientific figures: bar graph, pictograph
  • Scientific methods: policy analysis, risk analysis, scientific modeling

4. How many lives do vaccines save?

Abstract: Ever since their creation, vaccines have saved countless lives all over the world! Still, people in many countries suffer from diseases that could be prevented by vaccination. We looked at 98 countries where a lot of people are infected with such diseases. We wanted to measure the benefits of vaccination for them. Using mathematical models, we found that vaccination saved 37 million lives between 2000 and 2019! We project that it could save 32 million more by 2030.

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students. An audio version is available in English, and there is a written translation in Bulgarian.

  • Key terms: disease control, immunity, infectious diseases, microbiology, vaccine
  • Scientific figure: map, time series graph
  • Scientific method: data validation, policy analysis, scientific modeling

5. How can a community protect everyone from disease?

Abstract: Did you know that you protect yourself and those around you by getting vaccinated? Diseases can’t spread easily when enough people in a population get vaccinated. This effect is called herd immunity. Cholera is a big threat in countries that don’t have safe water and toilets for everyone. These countries sometimes vaccinate large numbers of people (mass vaccination). This creates herd immunity and prevents disease outbreaks. But it is hard to know how long herd immunity will last. In one camp in South Sudan, people who had fled their homes during a war received mass vaccination. However, there was a cholera outbreak the following year. We developed a mathematical model to find out what affects how long herd immunity lasts. We found that (a) it lasts for a shorter time when a lot of people move into and out of an area, and (b) the vaccine gets less effective for each person over time. Our results suggest that herd immunity lasts longer if authorities do two things: 1. vaccinate everyone; and 2. always give vaccines to new arrivals to the camp and to those who were vaccinated a long time ago.

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students.

  • Key terms: disease control, immunity, infectious diseases, microbiology, vaccine
  • Scientific figure: pictograph, time series graph
  • Scientific method: case study, scientific modeling

That’s Not All!

Check out our full collections of adapted research articles on Vaccines, Infectious Diseases, Outbreaks, Disease Control, and Health and Medicine.

Many of our vaccination-related articles are featured on the GAVI The Vaccine Alliance website.

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