You may feel a slight pinch…

Inside the Pacific Science Center’s vaccines exhibit

We’re all in this together. 
It takes a community.
Vaccines reduce disease.

These messages, displayed at the vaccines exhibit at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, beckon visitors to learn more about the important role vaccines play in public health.

For several years, health topics in this corner of the Wellbody Academy of Health and Wellness have included water quality, cancer, genetics and food allergies. Vaccines is the final of 12 topics. It opened in December 2017, and due to positive feedback from visitors, will go through September.

Panels line the walls explaining concepts like community (herd) immunity. A “chickenpoxing” video game invites kids to take a seat and play. A short video explains how HPV affects teens. In the center of the space, clear human silhouettes light up at the push of a button to show immunization rates.

Felicia Maffia, manager of exhibit development for the science center, said the goal for this space is to showcase what people can do in their everyday lives to impact their wellness.

“People appreciate that the exhibit reinforces good health habits, and we know vaccines are an important part of a health regimen,” she said. “We wanted to share with the public the importance of immunity and how it works, [and] people wanted tools to be able to talk about vaccines.”

The science center worked with public health and medical advisors to create the exhibit story. They reviewed each wall panel to make sure all content was accurate and easy to understand. Maffia said a couple of panels were rewritten to be “crystal clear.”

Besides educating visitors about vaccines, the story shines a spotlight on Seattle’s reputation as a hub of vaccine innovation. “We recognize how much research is happening here in Seattle on vaccine research,” said Maffia. “We’re highlighting the organizations that are doing work that has global impact.”

Indeed, history is a reminder of how devastating a world without vaccines can be. The exhibit coincides with the 100-year commemoration of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Also called the “Spanish Flu,” the pandemic claimed the lives of 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 Americans.

A comic strip illustrated by Seattle King County Public Health shares the story of how the pandemic arrived in Seattle in September 1918. Image courtesy of Public Health Insider.

Vaccines didn’t exist 100 years ago, and thankfully most of us are unfamiliar with diseases that were once commonplace. Maffia said they included a “faces of disease” panel in the exhibit, with pictures showing the physical effects of diseases like mumps and poliovirus, as a reminder that these diseases still exist. In fact, last year Washington faced a mumps outbreak with 891 confirmed cases (October 2016 — September 2017).

Maffia said the exhibit can teach visitors the science of immunity and vaccines. “If we’ve done it well, then it seems obvious,” she said. “Our greatest hope is that people are exposed to information or experience here, and that it sparks conversations.”

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