Museum of Health Care marks moment in time with COVID-19 update

The Museum of Health Care at Kingston has updated its popular Vaccines and Immunization gallery to reflect the latest innovations in vaccination technology.

Vaccines and Immunization: Epidemics, Prevention, and Canadian Innovation was first installed in 2013. Developed with Guest Curator Dr. Christopher Rutty, and funded in part by the Kingston and United Way Community Fund, the Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives, and Sanofi Pasteur, the exhibit uses case studies of diseases that saw significant decreases in the twentieth century because of immunization – smallpox, diphtheria, polio, and whooping cough – to identify the cost of epidemics to society and explore the search for adequate treatment and preventative measures, such as vaccines.

The update, funded by Takeda Pharmaceuticals and curated by Rowena McGowan, consists of a new panel and associated artifacts covering the technology and history behind the rise of mRNA vaccines, popularized for their use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Vaccination is always relevant and the gallery tells that story really well already,” said Curator Rowena McGowan on the new panel. “But after the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, it no longer fully addressed the interests and needs of our visitors. This new panel closes that gap. The development of mRNA vaccines is also just a neat and surprisingly long journey and it’s exciting that we can now tell that story as well.”

To celebrate the gallery update, the Museum invited visitors to come and get vaccin[educat]ed on Saturday, December 3, from 5:00 PM  – 8:00 PM. Visitors travelled through the history of immunization, from the very first vaccine in 1796 all the way to the present and even into what the future might hold. As they explored, they completed different tasks in order to fill out their vaccination passport. Once they were “vaccinated” against smallpox, Spanish Flu (H1N1), COVID-19, malaria, and cancer, they were entered to win a themed prize basket. Every participant received a free gift.

Congratulations to Laurel Wallace, gift basket winner.

The Museum wishes to thank Takeda Canada whose generous donation funded the update and Drs. Mathieu Crupei, Eli Gilboa, Ian MacLachlan, Ying Tam, and Drew Weissman for graciously allowing themselves to be interviewed for background research.

Rowena McGowan (Curator)
Rowena McGowan (Curator)

Rowena McGowan began her curatorship at the Museum on March 1st, 2022. Rowena holds Bachelors’ degrees in Biology and Archaeology, and graduated with a Master’s degree in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto in 2016. Her museum career and her vagabond soul have taken her around the country. She has worked in various capacities at the Torbay Museum, the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, the Semaphore lab in Toronto, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, the Manitoba Museum, and the Lac La Biche Museum. In the little spare time her cat allows her, she enjoys writing fiction and has had several pieces accepted for publication.


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