Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC San Diego

UC San Diego Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC San Diego

What College Biology Students Know about How Vaccines Work and Its Relationship to Vaccine Refusal


Vaccination is a major controversial public health issue and is laden with great controversy in today’s political landscape. It is unclear how much people know about vaccines and how their knowledge influences their beliefs (Jacobson et al., 2007). Therefore, we ask: to what extent do college biology students have an accurate and complete understanding of how vaccines work, and to what extent is there a correlation between this knowledge and vaccine refusal?

College students at an urban, public comprehensive university taking a biology course for non-majors (n=295) were asked to write a response to the prompt, “How does a vaccine work?” They were also asked whether they would vaccinate their children. Biology faculty (n=24) were also asked the same questions as an expert control. To analyze their responses, we created a rubric based on authoritative sources to gauge their completeness and accuracy. We defined a complete response as three main ideas: 1) vaccines contain a pathogen-like substance, 2) vaccines provoke an immune response, and 3) vaccines give some immunological memory.

We found that advanced biology majors score significantly higher in completeness and accuracy when compared to all other student groups, but there exists a difference between entering biology majors, pre-health majors, and non-pre-health majors. We also found that vaccine refusal does not strongly correlate with lack of knowledge which suggests that education alone may not reverse vaccine refusal

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View