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Given the success of vaccines in preventing a long list of diseases, why is opposition to vaccination gaining hold? Decision-making expert Valerie Reyna contends that it’s because anti-vaccination messages tell a compelling story compared to official sources, and they meet people’s need to understand rare adverse outcomes.
“In the era of Web 2.0, the contagion of ideas, transmitted rapidly through social media, is as concerning as the contagion of diseases because of their power to reduce vaccination rates, leaving populations vulnerable to preventable death and disability,” said Reyna…
This spring, the Centers for Disease Control reported that the United States is experiencing the highest number of measles cases in more than a decade. According to the alert, measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 due to a high vaccination rate. This could change should vaccination rates decline…
Since most people don’t understand how vaccines work, the Internet, which facilitates users across the globe to sharing personal experiences and ideas about health care, fills the vacuum.
According to Reyna, anti-vaccination messages are expected when people don’t understand how vaccination works and when adverse events that are difficult to explain appear to be connected. Autism, for example, is diagnosed in children during the same time period that children receive a battery of vaccinations. Despite research to the contrary, anti-vaccination messages have claimed vaccines are to blame. Official sites, on the other hand, tend not to provide a convincing narrative story line that helps people connect the dots.
Under these circumstances, how do people approach the decision to vaccinate? In Reyna’s model, the decision to get a flu shot, for example, could be a seen as a decision between feeling OK (by not getting the vaccine) or taking a chance on not feeling OK (due to a vaccine side effect). Without better information, most people would choose not to get a vaccine.
In a culture as anarchistic as ours here in the United States, the misreading can be deliberate. There is a pundit I know who considers rejecting flu vaccination a point of libertarian ethics – and he stores/replenishes his supply of anti-virals at a cost of hundreds of dollars every flu season as appropriate “protection”. I guess if you can afford such lengths to satisfy rejecting one of medical history’s best solutions to recurrent illness – rock on!.
Rejecting a solution, a methodology – on the basis of the statistically-tiny number of long-term reversals or, worse, products demeaned by sleazy profiteers on occasion [as are all products], is illogical. I don’t mean to sound too much like Mr. Spock; but, the Age of Reason took our species past this sort of rationale a century-and-a-half ago.
I know my choice of words may offend good people; but, I grew up before most childhood vaccines were commonplace. My neighborhood in that New England factory town extended to 3 or 4 elementary schools, public and Catholic. When we finished winter and schoolkids gathered together again for the new season of sandlot baseball, one of the first things we sorted out was who died over the winter. Who had scarlet fever, who had diphtheria, who had whooping cough or mumps, who had measles, who died from the flu – la grippe. The only exception was the summer special, polio.
I know what it feels like to count up who was missing from a smallish community on just one side of a small city. Who died before we had access to vaccines. Those numbers were a hell of a lot more than the fears and trembling of people who don’t really look at statistics. Or have my memories.