Online school tool targets pseudoscience, anti-vaxxers

A website designed to help teachers and students call out pseudoscience and boost global immunization rates is coming to Alberta.

'We are trying to inoculate the next generation against misinformation'

The website, Kids Boost Immunity, is already actively used in B.C. (Gillian Flaccus/The Associated Press)

It's a website designed to help teachers and students call out fake science and counter anti-vaxxer myths, and it's coming to Alberta.

The site, Kids Boost Immunity, which is actively used in B.C., expands on what students in Grades 4 to 12 are learning in classrooms, says the program's national manager.

"We wanted to connect curriculum, stuff that kids are studying already in school, to the idea of global citizenship," Ian Roe told the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday.

The website includes roughly 30 lessons and an associated quiz, which students can work through at home or at school. If they score 80 percent or higher, students earns a vaccine, which is donated to a person in need through UNICEF.

"So there's a global citizen reward there for the kids to help other kids," Roe said.

The site covers social studies, science and health, and there's a competitive angle. Students can compete against each other.

Ian Roe is the national manager at Kids Boost Immunity, an online tool for teachers and students to combat fake science news and anti-vaxxer sentiment. (CBC)

"It's a way for kids to critically look at an information source. That is an important skill. We have lessons on pandemics, epidemics, how diseases spread, vaccines and antibiotics, antibiotic-resistance — a whole bunch of things," Roe said.

But perhaps more importantly, the tool aims to combat pseudoscience and encourage kids to continue the conversation at home.

"We are trying to inoculate the next generation against misinformation and give them the critical tools to do that," he said.

"Helping other kids elsewhere has been a really powerful catalyst for students to want to engage."

And it would seem Canadians, including adults, could use that information.

38% vaccination rate in 2017 flu season

Just 38 per cent of Canadians were vaccinated during the 2017 flu season, according to an internal Public Health Agency of Canada report obtained under Access to Information laws, CBC News reported in November.

The number of Canadians reporting vaccinations has basically flat-lined since 2015, the first year the agency started surveying Canadians. At the time, 34.3 per cent of Canadians said they had been vaccinated.

Most respondents said they didn't get the shot because they didn't think they needed one, or they believe it doesn't work.

Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, said they're looking into why so many people are forgoing the shot.

"We recognize people have busy lives," he said. "And if there's anything that we can do systematically, from a program delivery point of view at a local level, to make it easier for people to get the flu vaccine, to take time out of their busy schedules, I think that that's certainly something that's encouraged.

"Even if you don't think that you personally are at risk, it's important to get the flu vaccine because you can also protect your loved ones, those who might be at a higher risk because of chronic diseases."

35% of site traffic after school hours

Roe says the generation he works with seems to be more accepting of the science.

"We have an 'At Home' section on the site, because we noticed that about 35 per cent of our traffic was outside of school hours, at night. They wanted to get more vaccines for other kids." he said.

"We had traffic on Christmas Day."

School tool combats fake science news 5:23

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and Catharine Tunney.

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