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Union resources for teachers to challenge anti-vax theories

UNIONS and campaigners have backed plans for schools to be given access to free teaching materials to help challenge anti-vaccination conspiracy theories.

Critical-thinking tools for school assemblies and lessons have been launched by the Stephen Hawking Foundation to help students discuss their concerns and uncertainties.

Are Vaccines Safe? provides teachers and school leaders with accurate scientific information on a range of frequently asked questions about the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

The Foundation worked with staff at Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets, east London, before working with Queen Mary University of London and the vaccine confidence project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. 

The project has been endorsed by the UK’s largest teaching union, the NEU, which will promote the resources to members, and the race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust.

The resources will be regularly revised, with the Stephen Hawking Foundation claiming teachers had so far found the tools “a useful and productive resource for schools to give students a chance to explore issues around vaccination.”

Ed Stubbs, a science teacher at Morpeth School, who came up with the idea, said he had noticed pupils becoming increasingly fearful of vaccination.

He said: “I fear that students’ real and fictional concerns increase UK vaccine hesitancy.

“The charged and often accusatory debate about vaccination choices can make young people feel hesitant about voicing their concerns and seeking help in debunking false information.

“They fear critical judgement over their doubts. I decided to create a set of unbiased resources for use in schools.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said school is “absolutely the right place for this conversation to be held.

“Young people have many questions about Covid and the vaccine, and this is not surprising when they themselves have been so frequently at the centre of its news coverage.

“These brilliant tools are accessible and robust, tackling many of the myths which can build so easily online and within communities,” he said.

Runnymede Trust chief executive Dr Halima Begum said: “This will have a particularly positive effect on young people from black and minority-ethnic groups who are often in households where their grandparents and parents rely on good advice from their children as a result of various cultural barriers in accessing community health support.”

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