As a first-year medical student with a strong background in science, Ciara O’Connell, a member of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine’s MD Class of 2024, thought she knew a lot about COVID-19 – that is, until she took Dr. Mike Sulzinski’s immunology class.
“Dr. Sulzinski is very passionate about his field and is a very enthusiastic professor. He thought it was exciting for students to learn immunology during a global pandemic and he fashioned a lot of the material we were learning around COVID-19 and the virus that causes it,” she said. “While he was teaching, I had a few moments where I realized, ‘There is a lot of stuff I don’t know.’ I thought, ‘If I, with my science background, am confused, there might be a lot of people in a similar position.’”
Ciara began to imagine how COVID-19 information specifically geared toward young adults could help this age group better understand why seemingly burdensome measures like social distancing and masking were necessary and, better still, why they should choose vaccination.
“The 18 to 24 age group has had the highest incidence of COVID since June of 2020 and that’s been consistent since the pandemic began,” she said. “If we can encourage this group to adopt prevention measures and to get the vaccine and we can do it through education, then let’s teach the basic science you need to know. Let’s talk about what’s best to do and clear up the confusion. The way I pitched my idea to the school and to my classmates was, ‘We can be COVID Myth Busters. I loved that TV show and its premise resonated with me.”
After discussing her idea with Dr. Sulzinski, Ciara and two other members of GCSOM’s MD Class of 2024, Lena Shally and Rachel Simon, developed a presentation aimed at their “near peers,” specifically high school and college students. Then they went to work networking with science-related clubs at local universities and contacted high school administrators to schedule sessions. The GCSOM students have now presented to young people at The University of Scranton, Scranton Prep and Wyoming Seminary. Through the question-and-answer portion of their program, Ciara says the main “myths” they need to bust for young people center around ideas about just how “novel” the virus is (it’s a coronavirus and scientists know of at least 7 other coronaviruses); vaccines and infertility (a myth that stems from misinformation about spike proteins); and questions around being asymptomatic, a particular concern for the young since they are the most likely age group to experience only a mild form of the virus.
Ciara said the main message of the 45-minute “Myth Busters” program is to empower the young students to share what they’ve learned with their peers. “The goal is to help students understand that we don’t know the health history of everyone we meet. So, the things we do are meant to protect everyone. Once they understand that, they can share it. At the end of the class, we tell them, ‘Now go out and be myth busters yourselves.’”
To schedule a “Myth Busters” session, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.