Researchers at Oxford University have launched ‘The Vaccination Game’, a free online role-playing game where players need to distribute a virtual vaccine, aiming to limit the spread of a pandemic based upon influenza.

Created by researchers at the University’s MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, in collaboration with Goldsmiths, ‘The Vaccination Game’ will allow players to understand how vaccines work on a worldwide scale.

Players are given limited doses of vaccines each week and then choose who to vaccinate in the ninety-nine cities available within the game, with the aim of maximum effectiveness and minimised deaths. At the end of the game, the player receives a report noting how many lives were saved by the vaccine.

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The idea was originally conceived by Professor Drakesmith and colleagues in their roles as part of a research network focusing on immunising babies and mothers to fight infections in low and middle income countries. They began to develop the game after receiving funding from the IMPRINT research network.

“We originally had the idea of the game and began developing it back in 2019, with influenza as our example disease. Then Covid-19 struck, and the ideas behind the game are obviously much more relevant,” said Professor Drakesmith, who is based at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. 

Rather than providing a wholly realistic simulation, the role-playing game is intended to educate. “Our game isn’t intended as a modelling or simulation tool, or meant to predict real-world scenarios”, Professor Drakesmith said. “Instead, we hope it’s educational, as it illustrates how vaccines can work on a global scale, and shows that precisely how a vaccine is deployed across populations can be crucial to its effectiveness.”

The Group Leader of the Analysis, Visualisation and Informatics group, Steve Taylor, said: “You can replay the game multiple times to improve strategy and save more lives – it is possible to do very well!”

Professor Drakesmith continued: “We hope players find The Vaccination Game interesting, useful and fun to play.”