A lighter side to vaccination

3 minute read

A new card game transforms diseases into colourful, collectable characters to spark a conversation about vaccination


Battle your opponent by reducing their immunity to zero, while building your own stash of vaccination cards. That’s is how you play the new game, Vaxcards, which has been launched by two Australian health professionals.

Medical resident Dr Daniel Epstein and sports dietitian Adam Zemski hope their game, which transforms diseases into colourful, collectable characters, will spark a wider conversation about vaccination.

“Obviously, vaccines can be a polarising topic,” Dr Epstein told The Medical Republic.

“We’ve purposefully made it more of a light-hearted, fun game to play. The game doesn’t really have an agenda or opinion. It’s just a fun game that can be used as an educational tool.”

Dr Epstein dreamed up the concept around 12 months ago. From there, the project evolved into a kickstarter campaign (an online funding platform) with the help of Mr Zemski, a friend with a common love of board games.

“It was a bit of a slow burner,” said Dr Epstein. “The idea originally came to me because I remember when I got vaccinated as a kid I just got a stale jellybean.”

Dr Epstein thought there must be a better way to reward children.

For anyone who remembers the Pokémon card craze of the 1990s, it’s not hard to see how this could go viral… “or bacterial … or protozoal”, the Vaxcard team jokes.

Vaxcards has already produced a free, printable “starter deck”. This includes a garish green rotavirus spouting “supervomit”, a feverish rubella character with a full-body rash and a self-combusting varicella character with a burning itch.

“We didn’t dumb down the names,” said Dr Epstein. “Some parents were just amazed that their kids were saying words like meningococcal and photophobia. It was really cool to see.”

The team is also planning to manufacture more exotic decks, including one featuring tropical diseases.

“Vaxcards looks like quite a simple game, but we’ve put quite a lot of information inside it,” said Dr Epstein.

“For example, the tetanus character has rusty nails and is clenching its teeth together like he has jaw spasm and lockjaw.”

A Vaxcard… a bit better than a stale jellybean

The game mechanics are also loosely based on vaccination statistics and the playing cards build in information about the diseases.

The youngest player always takes the first turn. The game can also be played by “true immunity” rules where each player reduces their deck to include only the Vaxcards for diseases that they have been vaccinated against.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the education theme, the game made quite a splash at gaming festival PAX in Melbourne this month. Such was the enthusiasm that by the end of the first day the kickstarter project had reached half of its $10,000 target.

With crowd-sourced funding, the pair aims to release two new decks, including characters for future vaccines and eradicated diseases.

“A lot of the money from our kickstarter will go towards translating the game into a lot of different languages,” said Dr Epstein.

“That will enable us to get a low technology, paper-based game to places that need education and reward for vaccination the most.”


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