History of Vaccines at the Philadelphia Science Festival

On May 4th, 2019, we had the pleasure of being at the Philadelphia Science Festival along with our colleagues from the Mütter Museum. We set up a table with information on the upcoming Spit Spreads Death exhibit coming this October. The table consisted of pamphlets and replicas of the death certificates of victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic in Philadelphia.


One such death certificate stood out because of the young age of the victim. She was only 12 years old when she perished at a local hospital from influenza along with so many other victims in the few weeks after the disease arrived. A young lady who asked about vaccines and influenza read the death certificate and was apparently stunned by it since she was 11 years old herself.

Younger children were attracted to a table set up with a miniature bowling game. The pins were supposed to represent people and the small ball bearings thrown at them were labeled as viruses. We explained to the children that the viruses are very capable of striking the people, something the children were allowed to demonstrate for themselves by sliding the ball bearings at the pins. We then took a clear plastic box and placed it over the pins, representing the protection vaccines confer on the population. The box had three small holes to show that, although very good at protecting the population, vaccines are not 100% effective. The children then took turns at trying to get the ball bearings through the holes in the box.

There were some questions by people about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. We answered the questions as best as we could and directed them to our respective websites for more information. With the exception of two people who repeated anti-vaccine claims and who were not satisfied with us referring them to official websites, most of the people who stopped a the tent were appreciative of the game for the children to teach about community immunity.

Below are some additional photographs taken of the science festival and our tent:

Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renenajera Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen