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A Beginners Guide to Exploring Vaccines

Vaccines are one of the great scientific achievements – saving lives and helping to eradicate infectious diseases. According to the World Health Organization, vaccination prevents up to three million deaths each year and COVID-19 in particular highlighted the importance of vaccines for global health. As such, you may be inclined to explore vaccinology further yourself. In this blog post, Ashna Pillai, one of the Vaccine Centre's Student Liaison Officers introduces some great online resources to help you get started.
Ashna Pillai

1. World Health Organization (WHO) - Vaccines and Immunization

The WHO's dedicated webpage on “Vaccines and Immunization” is a good place to start understanding basic principles and global initiatives. As a student, I find the fact sheets extremely helpful since they systematically break down information, causes of disease, burden, and prevention. You’ll also find links to related research and feature stories. For information from a health policy perspective, take a look at the Global Vaccine Action Plans which detail guidelines and processes to strengthen immunisation and improve vaccine coverage. The immunisation dashboard is great if you are a visual learner and want to understand global trends in vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs). To get some insights into barriers to vaccination among the population groups with suboptimal coverage check out the TIP Tailoring Immunization Programmes.

 

2. TED-Ed

I’m a big advocate for learning through videos, and when it comes to breaking down complexities of vaccinology, TED-Ed is my go-to channel. A quick search can give you a range of short, animated lessons where you can explore medical breakthroughs, complex concepts, and the science behind vaccine development.

Here are a few fun videos I’ve found useful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2Y0GMCFWq0

This lesson covers the idea of a universal vaccine, with the flu vaccine as an example. Simple metaphors are used to break down the immune system and its responses to viral invaders. Concepts such as antigenic drift and shift are discussed in detail along with the question of how do you design a vaccine that will be effective against future strains? Though it may seem like a fantasy now, there are steps being taken to work toward this idea, and this video will introduce you to some cutting-edge ongoing research to show you how.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rb7TVW77ZCs

This is a slightly older lesson that covers the ins and outs of vaccine function. They provide a great refresher on innate and adaptive immunity, and a useful timeline to take you through the history of vaccines from the first experiment to the modern era of development. If you want to know more about the different types of vaccines and their components this is the video for you. Consider how far we have come, and the astounding impact vaccines have had on human health throughout time.

There are many more vaccine related videos and lessons on the Ted-Ed channel, take a few minutes to search through the channel, you’ll be sure to learn something new and exciting.

 

3. British Society for Immunology - Vaccine resources

Immunology and vaccinology are interlinked, and our understanding of the body's immune responses is crucial for developing effective vaccines. Another informative webpage is the British Society for Immunology Vaccine resources where they cover COVID-19 vaccines, childhood vaccinations, and vaccinations for over 65s. There’s a bite-sized immunology section on vaccines and therapeutics which students from STEM backgrounds may find helpful. I recommend spending some time exploring this page as their resource repository is both diverse and rich.

 

4. Courses

One of the best ways to digest new information is through active learning. There are many online courses available covering topics ranging from the history of vaccines, vaccine development, ethics, pandemics, national programs, and more. Platforms like FutureLearn, Coursera, and OpenLearn offer free courses with paid upgrades for certifications. For those willing to invest a little more, the e-learning platform VacciTUTOR offers over 60 detailed mini-courses on various aspects of vaccinology and VPDs with case-studies and questions to test your knowledge. I have used all of these platforms in the past and found that the flexibility, guidance, and interactive learning process are incredibly beneficial. If you’re keen to expand your understanding of vaccines and are looking a new skill to add to your CV, an online course is the perfect way to start. 

 

5. Podcasts

Podcasts are an ideal tool for those who prefer auditory learning styles or if you’re constantly on the go. I like downloading episodes to listen to on my university commute. Here are my top podcasts that offer diverse perspectives and stimulating discussions:

This Week in Virology  -  looking at viruses, vaccination, and the latest biomedical research.

LSHTM Viral - looking at issues in public and global health, with specific episodes on vaccines, and improving health outcomes and equity.

The Inoculation - looking at the intersection of misinformation, health, and politics.

 

6. The Vaccine Centre

Last but not least, explore our own FAQs page and check out the upcoming events at the Centre – there’s lots of interesting work going on that you might like to hear about.

I believe understanding vaccinology is not just about acquiring knowledge, but also utilising it to become part of a collective effort to prevent and eradicate disease. Throughout my studies and life, I’ve found that the more informed I am, the better equipped I become to understand and contribute to the ongoing global health conversation. Hopefully these tools will allow you to do the same! Please join the Centre to learn more and let us know about topics you want to see more of in the future.

 

 

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