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Virus-Related Knowledge in Pandemic Times: Results from Two Cross-Sectional Studies in Austria and Implications for Secondary Education

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Part of the Contributions from Science Education Research book series (CFSE,volume 13)


This study examines what adults and secondary school children know about Covid-19, viruses in general, and vaccination. We speculated that the intense media coverage and the possibly more virology-focused biology education at school – stimulated by this pandemic – might have had a measurable impact on knowledge and attitude concerning virology and vaccination. Here, we report key results from two cross-sectional online surveys: an Austrian-wide study (A) targeting adults (N = 1027) and a second study (B) with secondary school students (N = 1728). While Covid-19 related knowledge was mediocre, answers to items testing for a more comprehensive understanding of virology and vaccination displayed dramatic knowledge gaps. We also identified several misconceptions. For example, several participants denied the existence of SARS-CoV-2. Vaccination damage was highly over-, and the herd immunity threshold for measles was strongly underrated. Many participants defined viruses as unicellular organisms or bacteria. Several believed that viruses could be killed by antibiotics. The majority of participants were unable to identify viruses among drawings of viruses, bacteria and pro- and eukaryotic cells. Knowledge was significantly correlated with the level of education/grade. There was no influence of school location but of school type: lower-grade high school students performed significantly better than their same-age peers from middle school. Willingness to become vaccinated was significantly correlated with knowledge. Many participants stated that the school had not sufficiently informed them about viruses. Thus, virus-related school education must highly improve to enable individuals to correctly assess health-related information, counter fake news and come to scientifically informed decisions. Finally, we discuss one of the most important misconceptions (viruses as bacteria-like) in the light of conceptual change theory. Based on this framework, we suggest possible methods for teaching virology.


  • Conceptual change
  • Covid-19
  • School
  • Vaccination
  • Virology

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Correspondence to Uwe Karsten Simon .

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Simon, U.K., Bracko, M. (2023). Virus-Related Knowledge in Pandemic Times: Results from Two Cross-Sectional Studies in Austria and Implications for Secondary Education. In: Carvalho, G.S., Afonso, A.S., Anastácio, Z. (eds) Fostering Scientific Citizenship in an Uncertain World. Contributions from Science Education Research, vol 13. Springer, Cham.

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  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-031-32224-2

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-031-32225-9

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