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This April, PHO and the Jackman Humanities Institute at the
University of Toronto hosted the Art and Science of Immunization Symposium. This event explored the breadth of
perspectives on immunization issues and how those in arts and science fields
can work together to address them. A major focus of the day was on vaccine
hesitancy. There was significant discussion around how a humanities approach
can inform how we communicate with the public and weave a narrative to help bridge
the gap between science and the public. Attendees were a diverse mix, with
backgrounds in fields such as immunology, epidemiology, history, English,
anthropology and even theatre studies.
Ève Dubé, a professor of anthropology at Université
Laval and keynote speaker, talked about vaccine hesitancy from an
anthropological perspective. She explained that vaccine hesitancy isn’t a
simple issue, but rather a complex interplay of personal, cultural, societal and
economic factors. She further explained that our behaviour isn’t always based
on logic and reason, and that humans tend to look for information in the world
that agrees with their decisions. The final takeaway was that public health and
anthropology have contrasting yet complementary approaches that can be used to
address vaccine hesitancy.
Crowcroft, Chief of Applied Immunization Research at PHO talked about the
history of vaccine preventable disease, and its role in major historical
events. She described how during the Battle of Quebec in 1775, immune British soldiers
were victorious against the American invaders who were ravaged by smallpox.
Bolotin and Allison Crehore from PHO, and Avnee Paranjapa, a graduate
student from U of T, performed a short skit on translating science from
technical terms to plain language, and finally, how the public interprets this.
This humorous presentation helped to show the major divide that exists between
the way scientists speak, and what the public understands.
Kim Barnhardt, Strategic Communications Advisor with CANImmunize and the Canadian Medical Association
Journal, discussed the creation of a “motion comic” called Immunity
Warriors. This comic teaches children about vaccines and how they protect
against disease. Kim explained that while many adults tend to be firm in their
attitudes towards health behaviours, children are more flexible, and are important
stakeholders in their own health decisions.
Allison Humphrey, a PhD student in Cinema and Media Arts
from York University, introduced her interactive motion capture game, Poxémon. Players
users use their arms and legs to fight off the “shadowpox” disease that attacks
the individual, meanwhile trying to protect 100 other characters on the screen
from infection. This game helps players to understand how infectious diseases
can spread in a population, or be protected by vaccination. Attendees had the
opportunity to demo the game during breaks.
Overall the day was enlightening and entertaining. As public
health continues forward in addressing immunization issues, we may have
unexpected allies from other fields, and perhaps a thing or two to learn from
them as well.