Adding Interest to the Vaccination Debate with Students

February 24, 2015

Vaccinations and their potential side effects has made a lot of news over the last few years.  Unfortunately, students of this day and age are far removed from the epidemics teachers, more so senior citizens, experienced as children.  So it's hard for students to relate on how valuable vaccines can be for people and animals alike. 

What is so important about vaccinations and animal health for Vet Tech and Animal Science students alike?

In a biography of Commodore Vanderbilt one part it discusses how an epizootic in the late 1800's swept through New York City killing many horses in their stalls over a period of weeks including some of the Commodore's driving horses.  The term epizootic was used because no one bothered to do the pathology on the outbreak to discover what caused the epidemic.  It was just an unfortunate part of life in those days. That's thousands of horses dead due to a disease outbreak that now is taken care of through vaccinations.  There are modern day epidemics whether the students know it or not.  Even West Nile Virus doesn't seem nearly as bad, but it's due to the widespread use of a vaccine.  Take a few minutes and look up the relevant epidemics that relate to your lesson. Horses, dogs, cats, and livestock all have some very deadly diseases that are managed through the regular use of vaccines. 

Why is a lesson/discussion on vaccinations so important for students?

We live in a time where over prescription of antibiotics is leading to the development of superbugs that are resistant to most known antibiotics.  In addition, there is a growing movement to stay away from all vaccinations for fear of life altering side effects to the recipient.  Yet many students are generally apathetic when it comes to vaccinations.  They do not necessarily think vaccines are a detriment to health but more so that they largely don't work because the disease they are vaccinated for still exists.  Which side is right?  Do your students have all the facts?  The media doesn't always provide the best answers because they ultimately want to sell more newspapers and a not always provide the best reference on the topic. 

How can you illustrate the importance of animal vaccination with students?

As a bellringer or interest approach you can:

  • Pick an animal disease of your choice, Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE) for example.
  • Have a bowl, hat, or basket with a slip of paper for each student in that class.  The death rate during an epidemic for horses who contract WEE is between 25% - 50%, so on 1/4 to 1/2 of the slips of paper write "unvaccinated".  The remaining have "vaccinated" on them.
  • Each student grabs one slip of paper when they enter the room.
  • Once everyone is in the room, announce that there was an outbreak of WEE and each of them was a horse in the outbreak zone.
  • Have the vaccinated students go to one corner of the room and unvaccinated go to another.  
  • Discuss the death rate for WEE and how they got off lucky.  Epidemics of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) are between 75% - 100% during epidemics.
    • Questions for them to answer -
    • Why haven't they heard of an epidemic for WEE or EEE.  Answer: vaccinations
    • What would you do as a farmer if you lost 25% to 75% of your hogs or cows due to an epidemic? Go out of business most likely.  If it were a farmer in the late 1800's or early 1900's his family would potentially starve if they lost their plow horse.  Then or now, they would lose their livelihood if half of the herd was dead.
    • How would you clean up/remove the dead animals so that the rest of the herd isn't infected?
    • Is this sort of outbreak still possible in modern times?  Yes,
    • Can they name a recent disease epidemic or at least a widespread outbreak? Bird flu in England 2006-2007. Over 250,000 birds were slaughtered to help control the disease outbreak.  Here's the timeline:  Bird flu in England 2006-2007

You will never convince all your students to begin a comprehensive vaccination plan for their pets or even their livestock.  However, you can arm as many as possible with the knowledge of what can go wrong if we as a society turns a blind eye to the value of vaccinations. Please remember that we'd love to see your results. Send us some pictures on how yours turned out on Pinterest and Twitter

Good luck and have a great week at school!