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Talking to the public about vaccines

There has never been a more important time for researchers to engage with the public around vaccination by listening to and answering common questions and concerns. BSI members and the wider research community are ideally placed to be expert sources of knowledge in these discussions.

Getting started in these conversations can seem daunting, so we have created this toolkit and collated a variety of resources from the British Society for Immunology (BSI) to support you in raising your voice. These resources are free for everyone, and we encourage BSI members and others to use these materials as part of their public engagement activities.

We can all be positive role models for vaccination within our family and friendship networks and wider communities.

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The information below should help you plan, prepare, deliver, and reflect on any vaccine engagement activities you take part in. 

Alongside this engagement toolkit and list of resources, we have a ‘Top Tips’ poster that you can save and use as a reminder.

Download the BSI Top Tips Poster (PDF) (495 KB)
Download the BSI Top Tips Poster (PDF) (495 KB)


When planning any vaccine engagement activity, there are some key questions to ask that should help you to plan your activity and make sure it’s a success. 

What are you trying to achieve? 

There are many reasons you may want to get involved in vaccine engagement. You may want to help the public make informed decisions to improve their health; your research may have implications for the public and you might want to share it with them; or you may have received funding to run a specific activity. It could just be something you enjoy doing – or it may even be all of the above! Deciding the goals of your engagement at the start will help to decide your answers to the other key planning questions. 

Who do you want to work with? 

Your audience may have already been determined by the goal of your engagement, you might not have a group of people in mind or you just want to engage with the general public (quick tip: general public is way too broad an audience!). It’s important to clearly identify and be specific about your audience so you can understand who they are, why they should care about your engagement and what level of understanding they may already have. For example, if you are wanting to engage the public about childhood vaccinations, families with young children are likely to be the main group you want to work with. You could also have audiences beyond the public if you are working with partners and other stakeholders. Consider them as you would any other audience and think carefully about the same considerations. Understanding who you want to engage will help to decide how and where is best to engage them and make a more successful engagement.  

What is your style of engagement? 

There are many ways to engage the public about vaccination. Immunologists are well suited to be expert sources of knowledge in these vital dialogues, but as a diverse community, each person will have their own approach and style.

BSI Engagement Characters Diagram

To help you in this journey, we have developed five characters that we believe exemplify different aspects of effective public engagement:

  • The Open Book: Tell your story. Make a video or write a piece about what you do as a scientist and your personal experience with vaccines. Please remember to tag @britsocimm and use #VaccineConversations when sharing your story on social media so we can help to amplify your message.
  • The Sounding Board: Listen to concerns, understand worries and acknowledge frustrations from the public.
  • The Helping Hand: Lift others up. Lots of immunologists have already been engaging with the public and you can play a crucial role by amplifying their voices and content.
  • The Magnifying Glass: Go in depth into a particular area or concern – for example, you could choose one question from the BSI Guide to Childhood Vaccinations to address.
  • The Bridge Builder: Engage with your community and help build a supportive forum to connect others to your expert knowledge.
Where are you going to do your engagement? 

You could go to science-based events and venues such as science festivals, museums or events like Pint of Science. You can go out into the public or community to schools, community festivals or to public places such as the high street, shopping centres or train stations. Or you can take your engagement online through webinars, Q&A sessions and posting on social media. 

How are you going to do your engagement? 

There are lots of options, such as talks, hands-on activities, attending events to answer questions, or posting on social media. 

Think about the character that best suits you, who your audience is and where you are doing the engagement. Talks often suit a science festival with an engaged audience and someone who is looking to be the Open Book or Magnifying Glass. Going to an event or a public area like a shopping centre where you will come across lots of different people with diverse questions fits well with being a Sounding Board. You could be the Helping Hand by sharing information online that answers people questions and concerns. 

You may have decided to work with a particular community as a Bridge Builder, perhaps with a group who have a historically low vaccination rate or who are not usually part of usual engagement efforts potentially because of cultural or language barriers. Community engagement can be challenging but it is very rewarding. It can also take a lot of time and patience. The best way to get started is often building relationships with partners and stakeholders trusted by the community rather than going to the community yourself.  

Finally, don’t forget about evaluation. Evaluation can assess the success and impact of your engagement and help to improve it for the next time. And by thinking about it during the planning process, you can integrate it into your project much more easily. There are many different methods and tools to do evaluation, depending on the type of engagement and how long a given interaction with a member of the public will last. Focus on the key information that you can gather such as how many people you engaged with and how long they were engaged for, or simple questions such as did the audience increase their knowledge of vaccines.


There are lots of resources, examples and case studies available that can help you prepare a vaccine engagement activity. Don’t feel like you need to start from scratch. Think about the type of activity you’ve decided will work the best, look at similar activities that other people have already done and explore existing resources and activities – many of them are free to use. 

We have compiled a list of BSI resources, guides and infographics, all freely available, and some examples from other organisations at the link below. 

With any engagement activity, consider the Health, Safety and Safeguarding implications. Think about possible risks to yourself, colleagues and the audience from your activities, how you are going to control or mitigate these risks, and if you are working with children or vulnerable adults make sure to read the BSI Safeguarding Policy

Do your research. The BSI has produced detailed guidelines on vaccines including on childhood vaccinations, adults over 65 and COVID-19 and these all include the types of questions that the public may have. You can find these on our Resources, Guides and Activities page. Also have a look at the news and what the current stories are, this will often prompt questions from the public. 

It’s likely that people will ask you directly if you have had any vaccines. Be ready to discuss your personal thoughts. Be honest and clearly state your reasons and motives. More advice on having difficult conversations can be found here.

Be prepared to have more general conversations about how vaccines work and immunity. Use BSI vaccine resources as a tool to discuss vaccines in general.

Many questions may be around policy on vaccine development, approval, schedule or public health campaigns. Look at what’s in the media and headlines to understand what types of questions may come up. 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.


As much as possible, engagement should be a two-way interaction. Particularly when talking about vaccines, think about it as a conversation between yourself and your audience. Avoid telling people information, instead make space for asking and answering open questions where there isn’t a right or wrong answer, actively listen to their concerns and where possible let them guide the conversation to topics they want to talk about. 

Be genuine and enjoy yourself. The public will get to see that scientists are just human. They will feel empowered with their new knowledge and people respond well to someone who is having a good time and letting their passion and enthusiasm shine through. 

Don’t overload with facts. Avoid using jargon and keep your language plain and accessible. That doesn’t mean you need to simplify concepts, just think about the words you are using. Try to come prepared with stories, metaphors and analogies using familiar subjects to your audience and use these to introduce the important ideas you want to get across. Facts can be easily forgotten but if you tell a simple and clear story with distinctive details, this can be more memorable.

Be honest and address the questions people may have about side effects and previous issues with vaccines. People will react negatively if they feel you are hiding information from them. 

Acknowledge known side effects of vaccines but remind the public of the overwhelming benefit of preventing serious diseases by vaccinations. Most of the side effects of vaccination are mild and do not last long. Talk about how the world eradicated smallpox (and almost polio) through mass vaccination. 

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 individualised medical 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 take anything personally and avoid being confrontational. Don’t make assumptions. It’s natural for people to have questions and concerns and everyone has different levels of knowledge.

If you find yourself in a conversation with somebody who has strong feelings about vaccines, you could ask them – without being confrontational – why they think ‘X’? Where did they hear this information? What would make them change their mind or what evidence would convince them? Acknowledge what they have told you and communicate what you know or provide appropriate resources. Not everyone is going to agree with you or change their minds so it’s OK to end the conversation if you feel uncomfortable, but always be polite.


After completing your engagement, set aside some time for reflection. Consider the evaluation data and do some self-reflecting so you can look at what went well, and what could be improved for next time. Be honest about the successes and challenges and try to think critically about what might need changing. 

Don’t forget to celebrate what you did as well. You could write short report or blog, highlight it during internal meetings or talk to us about featuring it as part of a future edition of Immunology News.