Vaccination in discourse: How students in Bonn, Germany, learn to deal with this controversial issue

After years of coping with a global pandemic, the topic of vaccination could not be more urgent to society and is at the centre of the first MULTIPLIERS thematic project in Germany.

Since the establishment of local Open Science Communities (OSCs) began in November 2021, the group quickly grew into a network of schools and experts from different disciplines. Among others, two secondary schools in Bonn – Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Gymnasium and Liebfrauenschule – as well as experts from ImmunoSensation, the student association “Get vaccinated” (“Initiative Impfaufklärung in Deutschland e.V.”), and the University of Bonn’s new Center for Life Ethics are involved. By meeting all these experts during authentic educational activities, the students will receive professional support in building their arguments for fact-based discussions on socio-scientific issues around the topic of vaccination.

Together with teachers and experts, concrete planning began in November 2022. At the planning meeting organised by the MULTIPLIERS team at the University of Bonn, the upcoming project phase at the two schools was discussed, first ideas were exchanged, and argumentative methods were introduced.

In December 2022, our first plans finally turned into practice! 21 students of the 9th grade (14 years old) of the Liebfrauenschule had the chance to meet Dr. Damien Bertheloot, Immunologist and Postdoctoral Researcher at ImmunoSensation, during the first MULTIPLIERS event.

In their previous lessons, the students had worked on comics related to the immune system, and Damien provided feedback on their work by explaining more about the cells involved in immune response and answering the students’ questions. He started his lecture with an overview of the different cell types of the human immune system and included the students’ comics in his presentation.

Using microscope video footage, he illustrated how individual cells work, sparking enthusiasm across the group. At the end of his talk, Damien also chose the three best comics, whose illustrators each received a small prize.

Through the incorporation of the students’ own comics, Damien’s talk became personally relevant to the students, who burst into excited chatter once a new comic was shown on the slides. Moreover, the students valued the peek into the “real” world of research through the videos of the immune cells in motion, which provided an unfamiliar perspective they do not usually encounter in school. In the Q&A session that followed, students showed interest not only in the content of the lecture but also in Damien’s professional career.

In January 2023, students from Liebfrauenschule will meet and work with the “Get vaccinated” group. As the final project activity, Prof. Dr. Christiane Woopen and Peter Bröckerhoff from the Centre of Life Ethics will invite the students to discuss the moral aspects of vaccination. Further activities on the topic of vaccination with upper secondary students (age 16) from the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Gymnasium will start in January.

More on our OSC in Germany

ImmunoSensation is a cluster of excellence at the University of Bonn funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) which is dedicated to the study of innate immunity. The scientists‘ expertise lie in various disciplines including immunology, neurobiology, systems biology, and mathematics.

The student association “Get vaccinated”, founded in Bonn, is a network of medical students and students from related courses like biology, neuroscience or pharmacy. The voluntary initiative has set itself the goal of providing vaccination education, especially for young people at secondary schools all around Germany.

The interdisciplinary research at the University of Bonn’s Center for Life Ethics, which opened in October 2022, focuses primarily on the topics of technologisation, economisation, ecologisation, and globalisation.

The MULTIPLIERS OSC in Germany is convened by the University of Bonn, one of MULTIPLIERS’ core partners.