The main comparison:
“When we immunize children, it’s a lot like helping them learn to read. Vaccines are beginner texts that our immune systems use to practice comprehending a disease.”
When to use this metaphor:
- Use this metaphor early and often in public discourse. It deepens people’s understanding that vaccines “train” the immune system, increases appreciation of the benefits of vaccines, and reduces over-concern about risks.
- Whenever you are making a public case for widespread vaccination, you can use this metaphor to emphasize both personal and collective benefits. Just as knowing how to read is good for the individual and widespread literacy is good for a society, an immune system that has learned about a virus protects both the individual and the wider community.
- When people express concerns that the early childhood immunization schedule is “too much” or too rapid, the comparison to gaining literacy skills can direct their attention to the benefits of preparing early.
- When you need to reassure people that the vaccine doesn’t stay in the body, you can compare it to people remembering how to read long after they have forgotten the beginner texts they used when learning.
Practical suggestions for use:
- In terms of emphasis, make the “learner” (the immune system) the main character. Talk about the immune system in action. Use phrases that show the immune system in action, describing it as “preparing itself to recognize and resist the virus.”
- Include the “text” (the vaccine) but don’t let it drive the action in your communication.
- Pair language-based uses of the metaphor with images of happy, healthy children developing literacy. Vary the ages of children you depict—from infants and toddlers playing with letter blocks, to early elementary students learning to read, to adolescents expanding their literary range.
To learn more about the research behind this metahpor, see Reframing the Conversation about Child and Adolescent Vaccinations.