July 13, 2022

Communities for Immunity: The Vaccine Learning Hub

“I can’t believe my family is doing science together!” exclaimed a Park Middle Schooler. The student attended the Vaccine Learning Hub, an event launched by The Lawrence Hall of Science. The Hub was funded by the Communities for Immunity program, a grant encouraging museums to strengthen COVID-19 vaccine confidence at the local level. Researchers behind the project assessed which Bay Area community would be the best fit for the Hub. 

“After looking at the data, we decided to work with communities in Antioch,” said Lee Bishop, The Lawrence’s biotechnology head and a Co-Principal Investigator of the Vaccine Learning Hub. The Lawrence team worked with UC Berkeley’s Health Research for Action and an after-school program run by Bay Area Community Resources (BACR) to design programming for eight schools in the area. Their efforts resulted in a Family Engagement Event where elementary and middle schoolers learned about the COVID-19 virus and vaccine.  

“Our team worked extensively with students and teachers in the communities,” Bishop explained. “We brought prototypes to students, made space for their ideas, and listened to their concerns about vaccines.” The research team then improved upon their models, iterating through the feedback cycle a few times. Finally, the finished product was launched at the main event for students and their families. 

Three activities ended up being a part of the Vaccine Learning Hub, all of which can be found on the The Lawrence website: “The Vaccine and You”, “Delivery Capsules”, and “Antibody Builders.” These interactive, educational experiences gave Antioch residents the opportunity to ask questions and get familiar with COVID-19 vaccines. While they learned, they also socialized with fellow community members and learned with their families.   

“It was great to see the families come together after not being able to ‘gather’ for such a long time,” recalled Christina Cerna, a BACR Coordinator on Special Assignment. The kids were excited to learn with their parents, and loved participating in the activities with their families, Cerna explained. “I saw a first grader smiling up at his Mom and saying ‘Isn’t this fun, Mom?’ and then jumping over to participate in the next activity together.”

While the Family Engagement Event was fun, it was also a source of reliable information. In fact, most surveyed participants trusted the facts they learned at The Hub. There were also relatively high numbers of participants with increased confidence in their knowledge of vaccines for children under 12 years old. Learning about the scientific mechanisms behind vaccines can sometimes increase hesitancy, Bishop explained, because it can raise concerns about side effects. Participants’ positive reactions to the Hub show that museums like The Lawrence can be a trusted source of scientific understanding. Engaging with science in one’s own community, on their own terms, is an accessible, effective, and empowering way to learn.

“Last year, COVID 19 scared me,” confesses a 6th grade student. “It’s not so scary when you’re doing science about it with everyone.” Community partnerships are the cornerstone of accessible science. The Vaccine Learning Hub is an example of collaboration between The Lawrence, research at UC Berkeley, and schools in Antioch. 

“This partnership was a great way to reach youth and families,” said Bishop, “and these relationships make us better prepared for future public health crises.” Youth were involved not only as attendees in the programming, but also as facilitators.

“The biggest take away for me was watching the youth light up everytime they had a participant at their station to teach,” explained Yvonne Nolasco, BACR Program Manager. Nolasco went on to describe the proud parents who watched their children demonstrate public health knowledge. The more that people, especially youth, are curious and excited about science, the more positive, life-changing progress can be made. Events like the Vaccine Learning Hub increase the accessibility of public health knowledge and  empower children to be community changemakers. .

“The youth asked if we could do more of these events,” said Nolasco. “I love the idea of our programs supporting our communities to learn about the importance of vaccines.”