Exploring Vaccines
Author: Sarah Kenyon

Time: 3 days
Preparation Time:  
Materials: Library materials, biology texts, computer access

Previously students have been introduced to antibiotics which are used to treat various infections; but how do you treat infections that aren’t caused by bacteria? Students review the historical background and focus on one vaccine to explore how vaccines work, then share their findings with the class. The class then comes up with a general description of how a vaccine works and articulates the differences between vaccination and immunization.

Students will be able:
1. Explain in a written format how vaccination works and how it draws upon the natural immunity.
2. Differentiate between vaccinations and immunizations.
3. Identify a number of illnesses that can be prevented by the use of immunization.

National Science Education Standard:
Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

The severity of disease symptoms is dependent on many factors, such as human resistance and the virulence of the disease-producing organism. Many diseases can be prevented, controlled, or cured. Some diseases, such as cancer, result from specific body dysfunctions and cannot be transmitted.

Teacher Background

Vaccination and immunization differ in that vaccination uses a live infecting agent, so it can make the individual sick, while immunization does not use a live agent.
Once the body has been exposed to a disease it can develop the ability to respond to subsequent or repeated exposure. If you expose the body in a controlled manner to an immunogen at one point, it can protect itself from infection later on.

Related and Resource Websites
Center for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov
World Health organization http://www.who.gov



1. Start the class by asking what vaccinations students have received. Make a list on the board. Ask students what a vaccination does? How long does it last?

2. Assign each student a disease/vaccine and ask them to research the vaccine in terms of the following criteria. They should produce a poster that addresses each criterion graphically or in written form.

i. Disease
ii. history
iii. causative agent- classify as pathogen type
iv. time line (historically) of effect
v. when vaccine was found
vi. what the vaccine/immunization is made of
vii. how it works
viii. how the vaccine is currently distributed (could be an SS connection)
ix. how effective is the vaccination or immunization?
x. disease/vaccine in the news

3. Once students have finished their posters they will conduct a museum walk of the class posters. Using the chart below for note taking, focus students on finding patterns between the vaccines and how they work. They will be asked to come up with a class definition of vaccination and immunization after the museum walk.

Vaccination or Immunization
Hepatitis B    
DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis)    
Hib (H. influenza type B)    
MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)    
Chicken pox    
Pneumonococcal vaccine    

4. Once the museum walk is over the class will generate a summary chart on the board for everyone.

Major Project Connection:
At the end of class, group students into their issue groups for the Public Health Poster project. Groups should be comprised of students with similar interests and it is acceptable to have different sized groups. As most of the work to this point has been working on how to locate different resources for research, switching topics should not be difficult if a student wants to work in another group. Groups should not exceed 4 students. They will get into their groups at the start of “Deadly disease among us” to make a plan for the major project.

Embedded Assessment

1. The introductory questions allow for pre-assessment of students’ knowledge about vaccination.

2. Summary statements can be assessed for the ability to articulate how vaccinations and immunizations work.



PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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