Vaxcards: Empowering children through vaccination

Morgan Liotta

19/10/2018 2:53:21 PM

An innovative new program is designed to promote childhood vaccination and disease education.

Vaxcards are collectable cards featuring characters representing each disease on the vaccination schedule.
Vaxcards are collectable cards featuring characters representing each disease on the vaccination schedule.

Talk to most parents who take their children to be vaccinated and they will be familiar with the anxiety of anticipation – usually in the case of both the child and parent.
Calming an anxious child with a lollipop or sticker can be a good distraction from the pain of the needle, but Dr Dan Epstein believes he has a better solution.
In 2016, the Victorian general practice registrar started Vaxcards, a collectible card game that acts as education and reward. It follows the vaccination schedule for children, who can collect character cards belonging to the diseases against which they are being vaccinated.
‘The aim is that children can learn about the diseases, as well as be rewarded with something to take home and play with,’ Dr Epstein told newsGP.
The idea for Vaxcards came about during Dr Epstein’s time as a hospital doctor, having the conversation with parents and kids about vaccine hesitancy.
‘I recognised that the [vaccine] information was in the form of very wordy handouts and the communication wasn’t really there to engage the kid in the process in a child-centred way of informing the actual consumer,’ he said.
Dr Epstein also recognised the need for more of an incentive for children.
‘I don’t think there’s a really good reward for the kids; it’s usually a stale jellybean or a sticker,’ he said.
‘So this helps to provide a bit of play to engage in, and also something that’s a reward for afterwards, with the added bonus of when they take it home they can still play with it.’
Dr Epstein sees the collectable card game as a project that results in children being educated in a fun, ‘non-jargon and engaging way’.
‘I didn’t dull down any of the scientific words in the game, so just to see a kid trying to pronounce the character “meningococcal” is cool,’ he said. ‘And even if they get it wrong, the fact that they’re trying and learning is great to see kids talking about meningococcal in the playground.
‘The cards are designed around the symptoms of the disease – with cute but disgusting lovable characters – but in a way that reminds you of what the diseases are and can do, which is really important information not to be lost.’
The importance of the disease itself is a vital aspect.
‘Some of these diseases [on the cards] haven’t been seen for years, they are diseases that we forget about because vaccinations are so effective,’ Dr Epstein said.
‘But because we’ve lost sight of how terrible a disease they are, we get more concerned with the vaccination process, so it’s also my way of subtly getting back the memory of these diseases and how nasty they can be.’

Dan-Epstein_hero.jpgDr Dan Epstein was recently named the RACGP’s 2018 General Practice Registrar of the Year.
Vaxcards are cost-effective, and anyone can use them, according to Dr Epstein.
‘It costs not much to produce the game, and because it can address hesitancy in the consumer – the kid and parent – I think it solves the difficult problem of there not being a huge amount of education around vaccination that goes on in a clinical setting,’ he said.
‘It is very much, bring in the kid, get them vaccinated, send them home.
‘I think that is a missed opportunity [of education], but you don’t want to slow that process down.’
Dr Epstein’s goal is to keep momentum by promoting the game across schools, clinical settings and community hubs – anywhere vaccinations are available.
He estimates that at least a few thousand people are currently playing Vaxcards, and is hoping to build on this success by creating an evidence base to test the efficacy through his current PhD, which will incorporate a randomised controlled trial in a council vaccination setting, testing the effectiveness on school kids playing Vaxcards to see if their immunisation consent changes.
‘For anyone who thinks Vaxcards might be useful, you’ve got to give the cards to a kid and see how they interact,’ Dr Epstein said.
‘If it slightly increases vaccination rates or at least starts the intergenerational conversation about vaccine hesitancy and addresses it, then it’s a win–win for the kids and parents, but also for the provider as it can make that vaccination process easier.
‘At the end of the day, it’s about good design – designing something that is easy to have a good behaviour come out of it as the end result.
‘It empowers kids and I see it as a good way to harness the power of collectable card games and, at the same time, incentivise reward and educate kids about vaccination.’

childhood immunisation preventive health vaccination vaxcards

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