Correcting Vaccine Misinformation May Reinforce False Beliefs Instead

Doctor giving worried baby vaccinationCorrecting 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.

None of the intervention strategies worked. Belief in vaccine myths and a desire not to vaccinate children increased over time.

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.


  1. Funk, C., Kennedy, B., & Hefferon, M. (2017, February 2). Vast majority of Americans say benefits of childhood vaccines outweigh risks. Retrieved from
  2. Gallup, I. (2015, March 6). In U.S., percentage saying vaccines are vital dips slightly. Retrieved from
  3. Park, A. (2010, May 24). Doctor behind vaccine-autism link loses license. Retrieved from
  4. 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
  5. Pro-vaccine messages can boost belief in MMR myths, study shows. (2017, August 7). Retrieved from

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  • Harper

    August 10th, 2017 at 11:56 AM

    I am a firm believer that vaccines for our children is something that not only helps to protect them but helps to protect then entire general population as well. However there are those people who feel so strongly different than what I believe and I sort of have this feeling that they are not ever going to change their minds no matter how vigorously we try to argue our points. They have this belief that there is a conspiracy behind all of this and for some reason there are those in the medical profession who are just withholding the truth from them. When they feel like this how is anything rational that you say ever going to change their minds?

  • Robert

    August 11th, 2017 at 7:39 PM

    Interesting study. Personally, I cling to scientific studies (I have learnt to search pubmed and read abstracts)that call into doubt the safety and efficacy of particular vaccines but generally all. I have also read pro vaccine pamphlets and, as a doubter, I am amazed at myself after reading these pamphlets that my first reaction is to go out and vaccinate my kids. Its the language you see. Change the language of the pamphlets and be honest and you wont see the control group going off on unscientific directions.

  • Suzanne

    August 12th, 2017 at 6:29 PM

    Lead scientist at the CDC for over 15 years William Thompson stated that he and his colleagues were pressured by superiors to destroy evidence demonstrating a threefold increase in the development of autism for African American boys that were given the MMR vaccine at the CDC recommend age. There are many studies demonstrating a link between vaccines and autism, G.I. and auto immune issues. The bought off main stream media is constantly regurgitating the same statements as your article. Using the Andrew Wakefield study as a red herring to distract. But parents of injured children have spent years researching vaccines.

  • Brooklyn NY

    August 12th, 2017 at 8:41 PM

    Albert Einstein said, “Condemnation before investigation, is the highest form of ignorance.”
    There is a problem, it is huge, and it won’t be swept away. The most vaccinated population, our children, today are the most sickly, diseased, the most medicated, and too many are dying prematurely, at birth, after getting the first two vaccinations, or soon after.
    This criminal censorship is appalling and completely, without any doubt, unethical.
    In science, the control group will always be life. When a product is no longer providing protection for that life, then ethical science effects a moratorium to investigate what has changed.
    In a free society, there are no mandates with medical interventions that pose real risk. In a free society, individual choice is honored.
    I am utterly sickened by the immoral stance this nation, the health agencies, the politics, and the media are adhering to that lacks any semblance of respect to life.
    Get your heads out of the marketing train and get serious about this vaccine debate. The vaccine injured are in the millions, spanning decades. It’s not some new politically correct game to play. In fact, vaccinations are so effective, that hardly any healthy person is left in this nation.

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