Vaccine News & Notes — April 2023

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Essay contest for students in grades 6 through 12

It’s that time of year again! The Vaccine Education Center’s school-based program, called the Vaccine Makers Project, is hosting our annual essay contest for students in middle and high school. Known as the "Maurice R. Hilleman Student Essay Contest," this opportunity is available to students in grades 6 to 12* in the U.S. and Canada. Entries must be received by June 9, 2023. To find this year’s writing prompt, application and rules, go to

*grades 6-11 in Quebec

COVID-19: Yes, masks work, and no, it wasn’t a lab leak.

Two outstanding “controversies” surrounding COVID-19 and the pandemic keep coming back to the headlines — the usefulness of masks and how the pandemic started. While media outlets benefit from revisiting these questions because it gives them content, most people just end up with mixed signals and figure that no one knows for sure. However, these questions are not controversial in the scientific community.

Masks work

Check out this blog post from Those Nerdy Girls, a group of female scientists who answered common questions throughout the pandemic. After describing the latest media rounds related to masks and examining the data, Those Nerdy Girls conclude, “Despite noise to the contrary, there is good evidence that masks are effective in reducing the risk of transmission and infection of COVID-19.”

Find out more:

SARS-CoV-2 did not come from a lab

Pandemic viruses typically jump from an animal to humans (known as a “spillover event”), but one of the missing pieces of information about how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, made the leap was knowledge related to which animal might have incubated it before it started infecting humans. This limitation of existing knowledge, coupled with a lack of transparency and cooperation by the Chinese government, allowed for a “lab-leak” theory to gain steam.

Recently, however, more data have suggested that raccoon dogs are the source. To read up on these recent findings and see why most scientists close to the matter agree that the COVID-19 pandemic started like most other pandemics — from a spillover event, not a lab leak — check out these articles:

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.