The biology vaccine unit calms fears surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine

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Kristy Butler

Some of the student’s posters laid out on a table.

Junior Marella Yan has always understood the scientific importance of vaccinations like many of her fellow students. But, with the COVID-19 vaccine causing many to be hesitant with what types of vaccines they allow in their bodies, the vaccine unit within the AP Biology classes helped quell any questions or concerns students had about the vaccine. 

Marella came into the vaccine unit already aware of the basics of vaccines. She had absorbed information surrounding vaccines while spending the large amounts of time she dedicates to absorbing information online, but even with her research, Marella still found herself uneasy about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“[The vaccine unit] did convince me more of the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Marella said. “So little testing was a concern for me, along with the extremely short period of time that was taken for development. Learning more about the types of vaccines and how they are created helped mitigate those concerns.”

This was the hope of AP Biology teachers Patricia Richardson and Kristy Butler. 

“We always teach the immune system and talk about vaccines and how they work,” said Richardson. “This year, though, we added in this specific lesson about the different types of vaccines and vaccine research. We felt it was important to use the science currently happening and help the students see how what they were learning was so relevant to the science being done in vaccine creation for COVID-19.”

I hope it spurs conversations between my students and their peers, [and I hope] that my students are able to help remove some of the misconceptions that surround COVID-19, vaccines, and health.”

— Patricia Richardson

Unfortunately, Richardson was unable to add a lab that pertained to vaccines and would allow the students to watch the information they were learning in action. Despite this, students were still able to do research and created a poster as a way to show what they had learned. 

“The goal was for the students to pick an area of interest around vaccines and health and do some of their own research to share with their peers,” said Richardson. “As AP Biology students, they have deeper biology learning about the science involved in the new vaccines and we want them to share this with others to help make all students aware of how vaccines work and why it is important for as many people to be vaccinated as possible.”

The posters are being hung on the walls outside the classrooms, showing all that the students studied and what they learned from their research.

“I hope it spurs conversations between my students and their peers,” said Richardson, “[and I hope] that my students are able to help remove some of the misconceptions that surround COVID-19, vaccines, and health.”

For Marella, learning about the vaccines wasn’t something that she was very interested in, but senior Audrey Sidebotham was eager to learn everything she could about this unit. 

“I was really interested in learning about vaccines just because of the time period we’re in right now,” said Audrey. “I think with COVID-19, it’s very important that we know what’s being injected into our bodies, whether it’s safe and how it’s made. But in general, I don’t think I’ve ever really learned about the flu vaccine and what I’m putting into my body; it was very interesting to know.” 

With each of the students finding a topic that piqued their interest, Audrey decided to take a deeper look into herd immunity.

“I didn’t really know what that was, to be honest,” said Audrey. “[I learned] that herd immunity is really important because it helps stop the spread. That’s what we’re trying to achieve with COVID-19, which was really interesting to me because the projections I found said that we could have herd immunity by next January. It’s really interesting to see when herd immunity will be reached, and it’s very important since it helps stop the spread.”

Some people during these times have been hesitant to inject themselves with the COVID-19 vaccine; with myths surrounding the vaccine and a lack of knowledge about the process, this project was aimed at those who are not so sure about the vaccine and perhaps don’t want to get vaccinated. 

But for Audrey, she has always felt that the vaccine was the best option.

“I think [the vaccine] is an important step right now,” said Audrey. “Because science has been [working] for fifteen years on mRNA vaccines, they just had to modify it for COVID-19, which is why it took just a year to modify it. So I feel like it’s been in the process of a normal vaccine, just sped up in this last stage of it. So I’m pretty okay with taking the vaccine; I think it’s an important step for the community to take in trying to fight COVID-19.”

This unit was a calming agent to many students as questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and how it would affect those who take it have started to rise up. After learning about what goes into vaccines and what the vaccine does to prevent the spread of contagious diseases, students were able to calm their hesitations surrounding COVID-19 while informing others, and to Marella, information is power, especially in this pandemic.

“Especially with the increase of people who are anti-vaccine and anti-vaccination,” said Marella, “being informed is the best way to prevent harm to yourself and the people around you.”