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Vaccine engagement starts…with a science communication blog

We're proud to showcase this case study in our 'Vaccine engagement starts...' series, part of our wider public engagement campaign. Our hope is that, through highlighting a range of the wonderful and impactful activities our members have been carrying out, others will be inspired to begin engaging with the public on vaccines.

BSI member, Dr Daniel Patten is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham. Recently, he has started engaging with the general public around COVID-19 vaccines. From writing a comprehensive blog sorting fact from fiction and a letter to the BMJ on the use of social media, to appearing in the local news, he has been using his expert skills as a researcher to make science accessible. Here, Daniel shares what he learned from these experiences and encourages other researchers to embark upon public engagement.

Why did you start speaking out about COVID-19 vaccines?

I have seen a wave of misinformation on social media during the pandemic, which can be very frustrating, but I have also found visual aids being shared to tackle this by providing accurate information (for example, the BSI has some useful resources). I realised that people want to know where that information comes from so they can follow up on it, so I wanted to provide evidence-based information all in one place, including links to the sources. In my science communication blog, which I co-wrote with Dr Craig Russell (Aston University), I direct people towards reputable sources while making it accessible to all. I think as scientists we have a duty to try informing people about COVID-19 vaccines, as having as many people as possible vaccinated is going to be key to bringing the pandemic to an end.

Why do you think it’s important for immunologists to engage with the public about COVID-19 vaccines?

We all get friends and families coming to us and asking questions. As scientists we are ideally placed in society to talk about COVID-19 vaccines – we read scientific articles day in day out and write reviews summarising key messages, so we are able to digest a lot of information quite quickly. This is something we learn over years of practice and we can use those skills to effectively explain these complex concepts to the public.

Do you have any tips on how to communicate effectively with the public about COVID-19 vaccines?

  • Pitch it to the audience you’re trying to reach. Get someone non-scientific to proofread it – if they understand it, then perfect; if they don’t, take their feedback onboard. I shared the blog with my mum to get her thoughts on it before publishing it!
  • Write short snappy sentences and make use of those softer skills we have as researchers. This is something I picked up early in my PhD which helps to keep people engaged, but we pick up many other skills over the years like, for example, public speaking.
  • Reach out to your local media outlets. Not everyone is on social media so it’s another way to reach a different population – especially trying to reach those demographics who might not be as engaged. I contacted regional media in the area I’m originally from and I was featured in the Lancashire Telegraph (East Lancashire) and The Craven Herald & Pioneer (North Yorkshire) where I went to school.

What would you say to other BSI members and immunologists who might be apprehensive about speaking to the public about COVID-19 vaccines?

Team up with other people around you to add more weight to what you’re trying to say. It is quite scary to raise your head above the parapet and have the spotlight on you, but it’s less daunting with someone else. Maybe try bringing someone else in with a slightly different skill set than your own. My co-author Craig is a lecturer at Aston University and that’s one of the reasons I brought him on board – he was able to mediate the level of content to address a more general audience and helped to ensure the article was not too bogged down with complex jargon.

I’d encourage BSI members to do as much outreach and public engagement as they can. It really does start at home – start with friends and family – and hopefully it will have a ripple effect and reach many more people! Also, check out the BSI’s ‘Vaccine engagement starts at home’ campaign!

Follow Daniel on Twitter @dapatten1

Are you a BSI member involved in public engagement around COVID-19 vaccines? We'd love to hear from you! Please get in touch with our Marketing & Communications Manager, Teresa Prados, to share your experience as part of our new case study series 'Vaccine engagement starts...'.

Click here to find out more about the BSI's public engagement campaign Vaccine engagement starts at home. We’re always looking for members to help bring the expert immunology voice so if you'd like to get involved with our public engagement work, don't hesitate to contact our Public Engagement Manager, Erika Aquino.