Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC): UC doctoral students lead key project on vaccines and misinformation


During a keynote address at the 10-year anniversary ceremony of the UC Communication Sciences Doctorate , Dr. Alexis Kalergis, director of the Millennium Institute for Immunology and Immunotherapy (IMII) , highlighted a new initiative that seeks to generate future research on the scope that the link between communication and science can have. As part of the new lines of development of the Institute and its renewal for a second period of 10 years, the consolidation of a communications area was defined in conjunction with the professor and former dean of the Faculty of Communications , Eduardo Arriagada, who is joined the Institute as an adjunct researcher.

Alexis Cruz and Vicente Schulz , first-year students of this doctorate, are the pioneers to participate this year in this project between the IMII and the Faculty of Communications and which will allow them to learn first-hand about the research led by this organization and thus be able to communicate them in a better way to society.

communication and science
Every week, students visit the laboratory in the Faculty of Biological Sciences led by Dr. Alexis Kalergis. In this way, they can participate in the meetings of the team of scientists led by the director of the IMII and the main person in charge of key research related to vaccines against the syncytial virus and Coronavac . This is to obtain first-hand information related to the work carried out in this Center of Scientific Excellence.

These meetings allow them to approach scientific language and terminology; and to the work carried out in this environment. “We are present at some meetings to listen and get involved in the investigations they do, sometimes it is difficult to understand with so much technicality, but this is what is interesting ,” said Alexis Cruz.

For his part, Vicente commented that something that motivated him to participate in this initiative of his faculty with the IMII was not only his interest in issues related to communication for development and health, but also because for a year and three months he has been a transplant patient, considering that combating misinformation is key in disseminating issues such as transplants in Chile. “I want to contribute to something that I also suffered, not all people are lucky enough to find a donor. That for me is a motor that pushes me to want to support people with health problems and society, to raise awareness on issues such as transplants” , he shared.

During this time, the students also participated in the recognition process for communicators that the Millennium Institute in Immunology and Immunotherapy carried out for more than 80 journalists from the media and institutions who stood out for their outreach work based on scientific evidence during the covid-19 pandemic. 19 . The meeting was held last Thursday, August 4, at the Institute of Public Health (ISP).

This initiative is added to a work carried out by the IMII and Sol UC resulting in listening to social networks on issues related to vaccination and in which professors Arriagada and Kalergis, together with other authors, propose a model that communicates connectivity and how this can be very influential at the time of decision-making by citizens. This work led to the article entitled: “Influence of online opinions and interactions on the covid-19 vaccination in Chile” , which is in the process of peer review for publication.

Misinformation and fake news
At the same time, both students are preparing the presentation “Disinformation in the vaccination process against COVID-19 in Chile: the issues that alter effective communication” , which they will present virtually at the IX International Congress on Political Communication and Communication Strategies. Campaign, to be held from September 14 to 16 in Malaga, Spain; and in which Professor Eduardo Arriagada will also participate, who will lead the round table “Impact of conversations and interactions in social networks on the result of massive vaccination campaigns” .

“We are working on a research proposal that has to do with misinformation, how this affected the subject of vaccination and what were the main false news that there was in the framework of vaccination in Chile ,” explained Alexis Cruz, who will also present the results of the thesis that he developed in his master’s degree in Mexico on the subject of science communication in a pandemic.

About the presentation they prepare, Vicente commented that the vaccination process is fundamental, but it also faces different barriers. “Not only the scientific world of the vaccine is facing disinformation, but communicators also have to work to combat it. In Malaga we are going to present a content analysis study that we did with two Chilean media outlets on disinformation in times of the vaccine, Fastcheck and Malespina ,” he said.

Vicente explained that the aim is to identify how the issue of misinformation can be addressed in Chile, through a scientific measurement process that shows where the trends are going and why certain messages of misinformation and erroneous information are being used. “What can shed light on how to redirect scientific communication in times of the vaccine or in the future, how to better face these communication attacks that can affect a vaccination process, but could also affect a healthy eating campaign, a process of political deliberation as a plebiscite. In the end, it is finding all these barriers that hinder the proper functioning of democracy, health and science” , he added.

For the student, reaching the different audiences with communications is vital, but above all, taking care of the “hostile” audiences, as those who are not the targeted audiences are called. “For example, in the vaccination process there is an anti-vaccine movement and we cannot ignore it, however small or large it may be, it cannot be entrenched or disregarded from this reality. We are in a moment of very strong polarization, if we fight it with trench communication it is counterproductive” , recommended Vicente.

Realities Mexico and Chile
After studying a degree in Communication Sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), a master’s degree in Communication and Culture and a diploma in Public Communication of Science, and a diploma in Digital Marketing from the Tecnológico de Monterrey and another in Spain in Scientific Communication, Alexis Cruz began his research on the topic of vaccines with his master’s thesis project.

Cruz inquired, from the perspective of science communication, how the main universities in his country: UNAM, the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) and the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), covered the issue of COVID-19, how had been done and the deficiencies they presented in the process. “In the work I did, I was able to identify that, in relation to the communication of science from the institutions, they tended to highlight their institutional image. With headlines like ‘IPN at the service of health’ , he said.

In the first semester of his doctorate, one of Alexis Cruz’s tasks was to analyze how the Ministry of Health communicated during the first months of vaccination in Chile. “I analyzed the news that was published on her website during the process. The study showed that the topic of covid-19 vaccination was communicated mostly from an institutional perspective, highlighting some government actors ,” she said.

When studying both phenomena, he observed that there is a tendency to develop mostly institutional communication or to present scientific data without the relevant context so that they can be understood by the citizen. “That is why it is relevant to continue working and studying the area of ​​science communication, in order to improve from practice to theory” , the student highlighted.

Comunication for the development
Vicente graduated as a journalist from the Diego Portales University, studied a master’s degree at the University of Leed in England. While there, he realized that, through communications, part of the problems of developing countries can be solved, and that he did not have to leave the country “in order to transform or support the reform of their own realities. ” . That motivated his application for a Ph.D. in Communication Sciences at UC.

“I would like to work with universities, social organizations and with cooperation agencies, in the training area because many hands are needed for communication for development and if we begin to form communications from a young age with social concern and contribute to the community more equitable and train students in global citizenship I think that in the future we would have more installed capacities to achieve this” , concluded the student.

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