Communicating Effectively About Vaccines

4 Aug

A new study is looking at how messages regarding vaccines are assimilated by the US public.

Immunization rates continue to be high but concerns about vaccine safety are increasing. Current communication methods do not appear to lead to more comfort with vaccines, making it more important than ever that state and territorial public health agencies, charged with promoting, monitoring and tracking vaccine use, understand the growing reluctance among parents and guardians to fully vaccinate their children and identify effective messages about the benefits of vaccines.

According to this report 5% of all respondents mentioned autism-related concerns and above average amount of people designated the statement:

Vaccines can cause serious health problems like…autism


and the conclusion states:

…Current communication methods based on scientific research do not appear to lead to more comfort with vaccines…

Reading this blog post one would tend to think it was a bad report for vaccines. Far from it, its wholly positive, which one will gather if one reads the whole thing. However, the aspect of the report I’m particularly concerned with (autism) shows that there is a growing trend of belief and a shrinking trend of science in what leads a parent to make up their mind. And apparently autism plays a relatively large percentage in that decision making process.

So what do we do about that? The science is clear that vaccines don’t cause autism but the US public seem to be ignoring such science. What else is there available that we can use? Because take note, we in the autism community have an obligation to society as much as they do to us. Their obligation is to do right by autistic people. Our obligation is continue to fight the idea that vaccines cause autism. If we do not then the public will believe that *all* parents of autistic people and autistic people themselves believe that vaccines cause autism – thats a very dangerous place to be.

3 Responses to “Communicating Effectively About Vaccines”

  1. isles August 4, 2010 at 19:16 #

    It’s heroic that, with all the advocacy that autism calls for, you’re still willing to go to bat for vaccines.

    Of course vaccines benefit autistics as much as they benefit anybody else, but you have a lot of other issues to be concerned about – thank you for all the care and concern you put into this one.

  2. george August 8, 2010 at 19:20 #

    The vaccination “controversies” are fascinating drama, and in their own peculiar way, provide insight into the challenge of parenting in the modern day.

    Decision science researchers at Carnegie Mellon University identified 30 logical models that parents use to decide when/if to vaccinate (or to not vaccinate).

    Summary We report on 30 in-depth mental models interviews with parents discussing vaccination for their children, both in general terms and in response to communications drawn from sources supporting and opposing vaccines.We found that even parents favourable to vaccination can be confused by the ongoing debate, leading them to question their choices. Many parents lack basic knowledge of how vaccines work, and do not find the standard information provided to them to be particularly helpful in explaining it. Those with the greatest need to know about vaccination seem most vulnerable to confusing information. Opportunities for education may be missed if paediatricians do not appreciate parents’ specific information needs.

    Cognitive biases, emotions and the Internet interact to conflate parent concerns: we know how to look for information about our concerns, but having found advocacy information, we lack the tools of objective analysis. So we find and remember the information that supports and reinforces our biases and emotional beliefs: to paraphrase the Rolling Stones, we don’t always get what we need, but we might just find that we get what we want.

    We also give more credence to individual narratives, without udnerstanding of the limits that the lesson of any individual story holds for others. We also don’t understand the limits of intuitive prediction.

    So we have to devise means of communication that overcome (or better, transform) those biases and educate parents about things they don’t necessarily want to know about.

    In doing that, we have to understand and respect the limits of parents, who in a relatively short time undertake a vast transformations of their lives, enter into an arena where their performance will have enormous emotional consequences, yet is based on very little education and (usually) even less experience.


    PS. I’ll echo Isles appreciation…


  1. Tweets that mention Autism Blog - Communicating Effectively About Vaccines « Left Brain/Right Brain -- - August 4, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kev and Squillo, Dawn A Crawford. Dawn A Crawford said: RT @kevleitch: Communicating Effectively About Vaccines: A new study is looking at how messages regarding vaccines […]

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