Correcting mistaken beliefs about vaccines may have the unintended result of encouraging further belief in myths about immunizations, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Numerous studies have disproven the notion that vaccinations cause autism. In 2010, allegations of dishonest research caused authorities to revoke the medical license of Andrew Wakefield, the primary researcher behind false claims that vaccines cause autism. However, a Gallup poll in 2015 found 6% of Americans believe vaccines cause autism, and 52% are unsure. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found 10% of Americans believe the risks of vaccines outweigh their benefits.
Which Strategies Can Debunk Vaccination Myths?
To assess the effectiveness of various strategies for correcting vaccine myths, researchers tried three approaches with participants in Italy and Scotland. The study began by surveying participants about their attitudes toward popular vaccine myths, then inquiring as to whether they would give their children the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination.
Researchers showed one group a pamphlet that presented facts to correct common vaccine myths. They showed a second group tables listing the symptoms of measles, mumps, and rubella, then comparing those symptoms to potential side effects associated with the MMR vaccine. They showed a third group images of children with mumps, measles, or rubella. A fourth control group received no vaccine information and consumed unrelated reading material. Participants retook the survey after the intervention and again seven days later.
Suggestions to Increase Willingness to Vaccinate
The study suggests people may cling to misinformation, remembering it more readily than corrective information. Its authors say public health officials should test pro-vaccination strategies before implementing them, as they may reduce the willingness to vaccinate. They also recommend addressing other barriers, such as access to vaccinations and prohibitively high costs.
A 2014 study of attitudes toward the flu vaccine arrived at a similar conclusion. In that study, researchers found that among people with significant concerns about vaccines, corrective information increased fears about vaccines.
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- Gallup, I. (2015, March 6). In U.S., percentage saying vaccines are vital dips slightly. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/181844/percentage-saying-vaccines-vital-dips-slightly.aspx
- Park, A. (2010, May 24). Doctor behind vaccine-autism link loses license. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2010/05/24/doctor-behind-vaccine-autism-link-loses-license/
- Pluviano, S., Watt, C., & Sala, S. D. (2017). Misinformation lingers in memory: Failure of three pro-vaccination strategies. PLOS ONE, 12(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0181640
- Pro-vaccine messages can boost belief in MMR myths, study shows. (2017, August 7). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170807104047.htm
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