How will the British Government convince the nation to take the vaccine for Covid-19?

Convincing the Nation is a new online exhibition which observes how government and public health bodies have reacted to vaccine resistance over time.

The exhibition also explores how the language used to persuade the public has changed from the creation of the first vaccine in the 1790s to the present day.

Following recent Covid-19 vaccine developments, the British government has been debating the best strategies to convince the public to be vaccinated. Overcoming resistance from some sections of society — who object to the vaccine based upon safety concerns, religious beliefs or political dogma — will also have to be a consideration if the government are to convince the nation to take the vaccine and achieve the ‘herd immunity’ which they desire.

However, this is not the first vaccination campaign that the British government has undertaken. One high profile campaign, which began in 1998 and ran through the early 2000s, revolved around the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine which became unpopular when it was suggested it was linked to autism. Due to a highly successful government campaign to increase vaccination rates, these diseases have almost been eliminated in the UK today.

Curated by MA students from the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, Convincing the Nation: Building Public Trust from the Origins of Vaccination to the Age of Covid-19 displays posters, works of art and satirical drawings to chart the anxieties of society and how the government has attempted to counter public resistance towards vaccinations.

Loren Turton, a student from the MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies course, reflected on her experience of working on the exhibition:

“I had no idea that the history of the vaccine is so political and controversial. I think it is really interesting how public fears towards vaccinations stem from the first ever vaccine, which was created by Edward Jenner back in the 1790s.

“Working with the Science Museum Group’s collection has provided us with the opportunity to create an exhibition which everyone can relate to on some level. After all, there’s nothing more pressing at this moment in time than the search for effective vaccines to end the global pandemic.”

MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies student, Caroline Barrett, said:

“In these uncertain times which bear witness to government U-turns and allegations of infringement of civil liberties; where the world is racing to find an effective vaccine to end the current global pandemic, we ask the question: what will today’s government have to do to ensure the public place their trust in the Covid-19 vaccines?”

The items shown in this exhibition have been selected mainly from the Science Museum Group collection which, as the world’s leading group of science museums, holds a vast collection spanning science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. Items have also been loaned by the Wellcome Collection, whose focus on health and human experience enhance the portrayal of the narrative.

Convincing the Nation: Building Public Trust from the Origins of Vaccination to the Age of Covid-19 runs to 21 January 2021 and is one of nine online exhibitions curated by MA students from the University of Leeds as part of an Interpretations module.

More information can be found here.


Edward Jenner vaccinating patients in the Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital at St. Pancras: the patients develop features of cows. Edited coloured etching by J. Gillray, 1802. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0). Masks added by MA student Jordan Findlay.