“What virus are you?”: A game to combat vaccine misinformation

Worried, skeptical, detached or over-informed: these are the four “viruses” to which the participants in the quiz What virus are you? can be paired after a series of questions. “This is the hook for the people who come to the site,” says Alexia Ostrolenk, a PhD candidate in psychiatric sciences at the University of Montreal and one of the instigators of the project. The fact sheets complete the dissemination tool.

Inform without judgment

It was an invitation to submit projects from the Fonds de recherche du Québec aimed at young people between 18 and 30 that gave birth to this website. With other fellow science communicators (Alexandra Gellé, PhD candidate at McGill University, and Marion Cossin, PhD candidate in biomedical engineering at UdeM and Polytechnique Montréal), Alexia Ostrolenk explored several ideas to present a project. “We established from the start that we wanted two-way communication and we wanted to be open to feelings,” she explains. This is how the idea of ​​a quiz was born, a form that gives people the space to express how they feel. “We want to provide information while avoiding value judgments,” she continues.

The students have decided to focus on vaccination, certainly the hot topic of spring, especially for 18-30 year olds. “This is the least vaccinated age group. There is therefore a challenge in circulating reliable information, “she points out.

The team asked Émilie Dubois, from IMPAKT Scientifik, to put everything in the picture. A team of experts led by Professor Nathalie Grandvaux, of the UdeM Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, also contributed to the drafting and validation of the explanatory sheets.

Make it popular for the general public

In addition to the quiz, the site offers a series of information and information sheets on vaccines. Each card answers a question about vaccines (how vaccines work, safety, variants, myths, etc.). “My role was to seek information to clearly answer the question for the target audience,” says Natalia Zamorano, PhD student in molecular biology and member of Professor Grandvaux’s laboratory. The young woman was part of the project’s team of six, students and scientists.

The realization of the quiz and information sheets took place in a flash, since the announcement of the grant took place in February and the site went online in July. “It was a small marathon. We were all at the same time on a full-time PhD, “recalls Alexia Ostrolenk.

Special efforts have been made to reach a diverse audience. In fact, despite the good comments received after the release, the team wanted to do more: “We realized we were reaching people who agreed with us. But that was not the goal! “Notes Mmyself Ostrolenk. After a review of the marketing strategy, the female students saw more negative comments from anti-vaccine people. “It was difficult to manage, but it was a good sign: we were reaching another audience,” she adds.

One of the main challenges of the project was the moderation of social networks. “We didn’t expect this part,” says Alexia Ostrolenk. However, it was not the first time for the student, whose doctoral subject – autism – is sometimes the subject of controversy. “When it comes to autism, we often talk about vaccines. I learned to communicate on this topic ”, she remarks.

Continue your efforts

This dissemination experience will have stimulated the desire to continue efforts to communicate science. “We would like to plan a sequel, but for the moment the budget is limited,” blurs Alexia Ostrolenk, who was not in her first disclosure experience. Please note that the quiz will soon be available in English.

For Natalia Zamorano, this first disclosure experience will certainly have consequences. “Before the pandemic, I wasn’t that interested in relaying information to the unscientific community,” she says. But in 2020, as a member of a lab working on the immune response to viral infections, and more specifically respiratory viruses, the PhD student has become a valuable asset to her family and friends. She says she learned from Zoom’s meetings where she answered questions and concerns from those around her. “I really enjoyed this experience. I felt that what we were doing in the lab was important, ”she points out. Writing the files was a logical continuation: “When I heard we were looking for someone to help us with the writing of the files, I immediately accepted. Knowing that we would be able to reach a larger community is a great pleasure, “she says.

Help us raise awareness

With the pandemic, the research activities of several laboratories decreased. “Since this is an area we were familiar with, we took the opportunity to read everything that has been published in SARS-CoV-2,” says Natalia Zamorano. The student and her supervisor also produced a literature review on the subject.

The pandemic also sparked several discussions in Nathalie Grandvaux’s laboratory. “Seeing how much misinformation there was created a lot of frustration. This is why I wanted to participate in the project, which provides access to credible information and fights disinformation, ”concludes Ms.myself Zamorano.

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