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Experts have launched a new campaign in a bid to boost waning vaccine uptake by giving people more information about how clinical trials work. Researchers hope to alleviate hesitancy by showing with a simple animation and comic the complex way vaccines are developed.

The new tool likens clinical trials to a train journey – at each stop more and more people get on board, signifying the increasing numbers participating in clinical trials.

The animation also shows how new vaccines need to be licensed and approved for use. 

Researchers from the Vaccine Knowledge Project, which is part of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford, created the animation after engaging with people across the UK to try to find out the best way to tailor information to the general public.

Focus groups were launched in response to research which suggested that vaccine hesitancy is higher among certain ethnic minority groups.

Charlie Firth, lead of the Vaccine Knowledge Project, said: “We really want to do something tailored to help address some of this research. As part of this project, we ran multiple focus groups and had interviews with people. We brainstormed ideas about how long the content should be, what sort of platform used to disseminate it, so this is where the idea of an animation came up.

“And one of the things that we came up with together was the concept of the train going through the different train stations. I think something that some people don't necessarily understand is how complex and how many different steps there are in trials, so we're trying to show in a nice and easy way that there are multiple stages of clinical trials ... and we involve more and more people as the trial goes along."


He added: “The main concept is to try and show people that vaccines are safe and they’re effective, and they’re safe and effective because they get tested in so many different ways, amongst different populations.

“And I think something that some people don’t necessarily understand is how complex and how many different steps there are in trials, so we’re trying to show in a nice and easy way that there are multiple stages of clinical trials … and we involve more and more people as the trial goes along.

“So one of the main things that we’re trying to show with the train stations is that actually at each stage more people get on board the train. And that kind of signifies more people coming on board with the clinical trial.”

He urged people to make sure their decisions on vaccines are “as informed as possible”, adding: “If there’s anything that you’re kind of hesitant about, or there’s something specifically that you don’t understand, then GPs, doctors, nurses are always really, really willing to help and discuss these concerns that you might have.”

The Vaccine Knowledge Project was formed by leading paediatrician and vaccine scientist Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, who is also director of the Oxford Vaccine Group.

“As a paediatrician, I am often asked for advice about vaccines by parents in my hospital clinic and I realised that it can be very difficult to find comprehensive and accessible information from reliable sources,” Professor Pollard said. 

"So I set up VK (Vaccine Knowledge) with a sense of responsibility to our community to provide evidence-based and expert summaries for the public about immunisation.”

The new campaign was launched as routine childhood vaccination coverage decreased in 2022/23, according to figures from NHS Digital and the UK Health Security Agency.

The figures show:

– In 2022/23 some 92.5% of five-year-old children had received the first dose of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) jab – the lowest level since 2010/11.

– Only 84.5% of five-year-olds had received two doses, the lowest proportion since 2010/11.

– In 2022/23, 91.8% of babies in England had the six-in-one vaccine – which helps fight polio, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, hepatitis B and haemophilus influenzae type B – by their first birthday.

– By their first birthday only 93.7% of children were up to date with the pneumococcal vaccine in 2022/23 and 91% were protected against meningitis B.

– Only 88.7% were vaccinated against rotavirus, which can cause diarrhoea in infants.

Meanwhile, figures from the UK Health Security Agency show that 68.3% of eligible adults in England had taken up the offer of a Covid-19 booster from September 1 to November 26.

Statistics also show that three-quarters of over-65s have had a flu jab so far this season, which is comparable to last year.

But only 26.8% of pregnant women have taken up the offer of a flu jab so far this year – lower than the year before – and just 37% of clinically vulnerable people under the age of 65 have done so.