Ottawa doctor releases sci-fi comic to teach kids about immune system

CBC News

It’s the stuff of countless science-fiction stories: alien invaders descending on earth and threatening the planet by turning humanity into mindless, obedient zombies.

Now that tried-and-true tale is providing fresh inspiration for an Ottawa physician looking to teach kids about their immune systems and how vaccines are the best way to protect themselves from influenza and other viruses.

Star Wars meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Dr. Kumanan Wilson teamed up with students from Algonquin College to create Immunity Warriors: Invasion of the Alien Zombies, a digital comic that is part Star Wars, part Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Dr. Kumanan Wilson

Wilson, who is also a scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa, got the idea for the comic while preparing a talk for his son’s Grade 6 class.

He was planning to speak about the immune system and how it is boosted by vaccines when he realized science fiction might be the best way to explain it.

“I thought how could I make this interesting and Star Wars: The Force Awakens was about to come out so I thought, let’s do a space invasion theme,” remembers Wilson.

Communicating through comics

“I could tell the class wasn’t bored. They seemed really engaged. They were asking great questions. And then I went back to my team at The Ottawa Hospital and I said I think this is a way we need to engage people about vaccines.”

A huge fan of comics, Wilson developed the story and then enlisted the help of Algonquin students to write the script, illustrate it and develop the digital presentation.

The result is an online, alien invasion yarn in which viruses take the form of spaceships, cities represent human cells and antibodies are portrayed as missiles.

Wilson hopes that by making science fun, Immunity Warriors: Invasion of the Alien Zombies will help to take the sting out of inoculations and encourage youngsters to see them in a new light.

“What they do know is it’s a shot in the arm and it hurts. I think in one sense, kids are already sensitive to sort of not like vaccines when they become adults. So I think there’s really an importance to get more positive messaging to kids.”

Anti-vaccination movement

Wilson also hopes kids will be easier to convince than parents who have proved immune to arguments supporting vaccinations.

“I’ve been studying vaccine hesitancy for a while. Trying to convince adults to change their minds about vaccines is really hard to do. But maybe the kids are the answer. They’re naturally curious. They love to learn.”

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