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Tips for how to discuss vaccines

These tips are for scientists who will be engaging with the public around the topic of vaccine immunology, principally childhood vaccines. The aim of these tips is to encourage immunology researchers to have the confidence to talk about vaccines to a wide range of audiences in a context of public engagement e.g. during a science festival related activity.

Top tips

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  • Do your research! People may ask you questions that you do not expect and have never been asked before. Read and familiarise yourself with the BSI ‘A guide to childhood vaccination’ and prepare with how to deal with different types of questions. Look at our list of additional resources for the correct website to find updates.
  • Don’t overload with facts. Facts can be easily forgotten but if you tell a simple and clear story with distinctive details, this can be more memorable. Avoid using jargon and keep your language plain and accessible.
  • Be prepared to have more general conversations about immunology.

BSI member engaging the public

  • You are not there to give medical advice. Unless you are clinically trained, you should not attempt to answer clinical questions and should make it clear that you are not a medical doctor. You are there to give reliable information with as much relevance to the immune system as possible. Any questions asking for clinical advice should be acknowledged and pointed in the direction of appropriate resources. If anyone brings up any particular medical issues, you can suggest that they visit their GP.
  • Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. The worst thing to do would be to give the wrong information. If you don’t know, be honest and point in the direction of appropriate resources.
  • Try to relate to the individual as much as possible, be empathetic. Listen to concerns, acknowledge the concerns and where possible and if comfortable, share your own experience or concerns. Don’t take anything personally and avoid being confrontational. It’s natural for people to have questions and concerns and everyone has different levels of knowledge.
  • Acknowledge known side effects of vaccines but remind people of the overwhelming benefit of preventing serious diseases by vaccinations. Most of the side effects of vaccination are mild and do not last long.
  • Enjoy it!