13 November 2017
When the Crown Village Cinema screened a documentary falsely linking autism to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, some Monash IT master’s students stopped dead in their tracks.: Could such fearmongering throw us back to an era when a single virus could wipe out hundreds of thousands of people in a year? And, if so, what should they do about it?
Alarmed that public confidence in vaccines had begun to erode, postgraduates Boris Ilic, Qian (Annie) Zhou, Tongda Shi and Varun Pozhath took action, determined to resist a winding back of the clock. As part of their IT Industry Experience Project unit at Monash, they worked as a team to pinpoint danger zones in Victoria. By examining publicly available data, they found that the lowest immunisation rates occur amongst immigrant communities, sparking concern that they might be most vulnerable to misinformation.
To counter anti-vaccine myths and encourage vaccination amongst families recently arrived in Australia, the foursome developed the Vaxinator website. With programming help from PhD student Peter Serwylo, some great tips from industry mentors, and guidance from tutors Shan Li and Livia Mammarella, they’ve created an informative, interactive site. Parents can now compare vaccinations received in their home country with those recommended in Australia. They can click through a Victorian timeline for essential vaccinations up to age 13, and find out where children might get some for free. The site also offers general vaccine information and addresses common concerns.
Vaxinator has been a huge success. Not only did the site win the Health and Wellbeing category at the Faculty of IT Industry Project Expo, it has caught the eye of the Victorian Department of Health & Human Services. Recently contacted by a Department member, the team can see promising potential for a partnership. With adequate resources and manpower, they hope to advance the site, keeping all Victorians safe by boosting vaccinations.