Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Vaccines: Where are the facts?

Parents are barraged with a lot of anti-vaccine materials through the Internet and media, and it’s hard to sort out what the facts are, and which stories are myths and conspiracy theories.

“I think vaccines have become a scapegoat for our fears about medicine, the government, and mistrust of authority,” Dr. Julia Getzelman states. Her pediatric practice in San Francisco attracts vaccine skeptics, and some of her patients follow an amended vaccine schedule in an effort to increase vaccination.

A recent article in Forbes magazine supported Dr. Getzelman’s statement. A study showed that climage change deniers, anti-GMO activists and vaccine conspiracy theorists all overlap each other on a tendency to believe in conspiracies.

Another study refutes this and showed that Americans reluctance towards vaccines isn’t from a distrust of science or misinformation, but from divisive forces that turn scientific findings into uninformed politically charged controversies. Dan M. Kahan of Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School argues: “The problem isn’t media sensationalism. Uninformed and counterproductive risk communication is the inevitable byproduct of the absence of a systematic, evidence-based alternative.”

For many spooked parents, data and studies don’t ease their fears. Instead, pediatricians like Dr. Jane Finlay in British Columbia are using humor, validation and compromise to work with parents. Finlay can’t acknowledge these parents beliefs as true, but she will work with them to adapt the vaccine schedule because it is in the best interest of the child to get their vaccinations.

According to Noni MacDonald, a professor of pediatrics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, just spending 5 to 10 minutes on an anti-vaccine website can influence a parent to opt out of vaccines. Doctors are pushing for more regulation on websites that push anti-vaccine messages. The Australian government is working to force the Australian Vaccine Network to run a consumer-warning banner stating it has a misleading name.

“We all like to think we make our decisions based on incredible evidence and we weigh it out. Well, we don’t. A lot of our decisions are based on our beliefs at the unconscious and subconscious level,” MacDonald states.

Finlay and MacDonald recommend that pediatricians work with parents on a vaccine schedule, use a non-confrontational tone, hear parents out, and not assume that all parents have the same concerns.

“They’re doing what they feel is honestly the best thing for their child,” Finlay points out. She further recommends that pediatricians combat Jenny McCarthy-style stories with compelling information on children damaged or killed by vaccine-preventable diseases.

Lessley Anderson wrote a blog post about vaccine deniers for the Verge in October, and focused on the San Francisco Waldorf School, where only 35% of incoming kindergarteners are up to date on vaccinations. “But if I decide not to vaccinate my kid, I make him a potential carrier. He may be able to fight off measles, mumps, rubella, and other illnesses — but what if he spreads a disease to somebody who, for whatever reason, isn’t so lucky?”

Vaccine Watch encourages parents with concerns about vaccines to talk with their pediatrician and about their concerns. Vaccines are the best invention of the twentieth century, and as recent outbreaks of measles and other preventable diseases have shown, very necessary to public health.

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