mRNA Vaccines and COVID-19 Testing

Explore mRNA vaccines, vaccine confidence, biological aspects of testing for SARS-CoV-2, and COVID-19 inequities through two related lesson sequences. 
COVID-19 Illustration


These two lesson sequences focus on understanding COVID-19 testing and mRNA vaccinations as phenomena to explore the biotechnology of viral testing, introduce bioethics, and build confidence in mRNA vaccine technology. 

The Vaccine Confidence lessons focus helping students understand traditional vaccines and mRNA vaccines. Students explore the different types of vaccine related diseases to learn about how vaccines work and how they protect our communities. Students then learn about the role of mRNA in our bodies and how our cellular machinery is utilized in response to mRNA vaccines in order to help build immunity. In the final lesson, students build a timeline of the development of mRNA vaccines starting in the 1960s. This lesson sequence ends with students developing PSAs that either explain vaccines to their communities or directly tackle vaccine misinformation.


In the COVID-19 Testing lessons, students study the two predominant methods of testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Through virtual labs, students analyze the results of both a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and antigen tests to deepen their understanding of what these tests can tell us and what they cannot.

Students apply this scientific knowledge to the social and political aspects of the pandemic through exploring biomedical ethical principles and ethical reasoning from a hypothetical vaccine distribution scenario. Students also look at real data related to COVID-19 health inequities and reflect on what drives these disparate health outcomes in communities of color. They engage in a seminar reading to deepen their understanding of the role of structural racism in exacerbating the effects of the pandemic. 


3 Lesson plans on mRNA Vaccine Confidence 
7 Lesson plans on COVID-19 Testing 
Adapted for Remote Learning 


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Vaccine Confidence Lessons

Intro to Vaccines

Students investigate the use of vaccines in preventing disease. Students begin by investigating different vaccine-related diseases and interpret graphs to try to understand how vaccines may have protected communities from these diseases. Then students explore the immune mechanism of vaccines by comparing two theoretical models of individual immune responses to vaccination and infection.

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What is mRNA?

Students read the ingredients in a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine and wonder: what is mRNA and how can it create an immune response. Students interpret data to determine 1) the locations of DNA, mRNA, and ribosomes (location of protein synthesis) in cells and 2) DNA is needed to make proteins.

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mRNA Vaccine History & Misinformation

Students tackle misinformation about mRNA vaccines beginning with the idea that mRNA vaccines are unsafe due to their quick development. Students create a timeline about the history of mRNA vaccine development. Students debunk the myths related to mRNA vaccines and use the knowledge about mRNA vaccine learned from the previous lessons to create their own social media post about mRNA vaccines.

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Featured Video: How do mRNA vaccines work?

To understand how mRNA vaccines work, we need to understand mRNA's role in our body. This animation highlights how scientists utilized the function of mRNA to create this new type of vaccine.

This video was created by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Science Education Partnership (SEP) in partnership with Arkitek Scientific with narration by a previous Fred Hutch student intern, Yusuf H.

The SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine Confidence Project aims to develop resources related to inspiring vaccine confidence in partnership with the COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN) and the Fred Hutch/ UW Office of Community Outreach & Engagement

COVID-19 Testing Lessons

Diagnostic Testing Intro

Explore how scientists test for viral infection and what the future of testing might look like as the world starts to reopen.

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Molecular Testing

Examine patient samples after performing gel electrophoresis analysis to determine if their patient is positive, negative, or inconclusive for COVID-19 infections based on the RT-PCR method tests that detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

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Rapid Antigen Testing

Learn about how to test for current infections using an ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). Students learn about the body’s immune response to viral infection and how researchers use manufactured antibodies to detect viral antigens (proteins) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus .

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COVID-19 Bioethics

Explore biomedical ethical principles and ethical reasoning from a hypothetical vaccine distribution scenario. Then analyze other biomedical issues related to COVID-19 using those principles.

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COVID-19 Health Inequities

Analyze real data related to COVID-19 health inequities and reflect on what drives those disparities. They engage with a seminar reading to deepen their understanding of the role of structural racism in exacerbating the effects of the pandemic in communities of color.

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Nextstrain Overview

Explore COVID-19 genomic data to analyze viral evolution and the geographics spread of SARS-CoV-2.

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Policies and the Nature of Science

Construct a timeline of our scientific understanding of the virus, CDC policies on COVID-19, and other media headlines to see how science evolves over time and how people use or choose not to use science to inform their decisions. 

Coming Soon!

This project was made possible by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA), Grant Number R25 GM129842, from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), National Institutes of Health (NIH).  The vaccine confidence lessons were developed through the SEPA COVID Vaccine Hesitance Administrative Supplement Program R25GM129842-04S1. The contents of these materials are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIGMS or NIH.

NIGMS, part of the National Institutes of Health, supports basic research that increases the understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Its Science Education Partnership Award program funds innovative pre-kindergarten to grade 12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, and informal science education projects.

Labs and lessons from this unit were also published in a collection of instructional materials developed by Seattle-based global health-focused organizations as part of the Washington Global Health Alliance - Global Health for the STEM Classroom Instructional Materials.