Changes to the GCSE science curriculum could help improve vaccine uptake, new study concludes

Newswise – Researchers are calling for urgent changes to the GCSE science curriculum to help learners gain sufficient scientific literacy to be able to identify reliable sources and inform their future vaccination decision-making.

A recent study from the University of Portsmouth has revealed new insights into the factors influencing immunization hesitancy in a British population sample. The results show a direct relationship between vaccine confidence and levels of science education.

Through a survey of nearly 400 participants, the researchers aimed to examine whether levels of scientific literacy and perspective on social and political issues were associated with different levels of vaccine confidence and concern about COVID-19.

Participants were asked how much they agreed with statements such as:

  • Vaccines are safe
  • I believe vaccines should be a mandatory practice
  • Vaccines are good for our health and well-being

The study found that participants studying science up to GCSE level were more hesitant than those with lower and higher levels of science education.

Dr Alessandro Ciani, Associate Head (Students) of the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Portsmouth said: “It is possible that participants who did not study science at secondary school may recognize a lack of knowledge of the subject and be inclined to seek expert advice on vaccines from qualified personnel such as health workers. However, those who have taken GCSE Science exams may overestimate their competence in the field and ‘do their own research’, not always with the right results.’

This study also revealed that participants’ levels of concern about the COVID-19 pandemic varied significantly based on both their level of scientific education and their political views. 100 percent of participants with the lowest level of science education (primary or junior high) agreed with the statement “I am concerned about the current pandemic,” while participants who studied science at the graduate level were the most likely to disagree with him.

Participants with neutral/centrist political views expressed lower confidence than those with a libertarian social position or a left-wing economic position. Higher concern about the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with lower levels of science education, libertarian social views, and left-wing economic views.

Dr Siani said: “Lack of trust in vaccines was already identified as one of the top ten threats to global health, even before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the topic of immunization to the front pages of global news outlets. At a time when many countries are still in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic and limited vaccine uptake is hampering global efforts to overcome the current crisis, this study provides important insight into the factors that underlie vaccine confidence and concerns about the pandemic. Given that the majority of the population does not pursue further science studies after secondary education, the observation that participants who studied science up to GCSE level showed the highest level of hesitancy about vaccines should be a reason for concern.

The researchers concluded that school curricula should not only be designed to teach students accurate and up-to-date scientific concepts, but also to equip them with the tools to understand the scientific method, avoid misinformation, and seek out reliable, evidence-based scientific sources. Ensuring that topics of critical public health importance are adequately covered in secondary school curricula can help improve scientific literacy and confidence in vaccinations and the health workers who administer them.

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