Fewer parents are following the recommended vaccination schedule for their kids, and as a result, outbreaks of measles, mumps, and whooping cough are on the rise in America.
In order to protect people who are too young or too sick to receive vaccinations, 90 percent of a community must be vaccinated. But when these like-minded anti-vaccine parents cluster in certain areas of the country, it’s a recipe for disaster, and preventable outbreaks result.
In 2011, 15 states saw their vaccination rates slip below the 90 percent threshold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And last year brought the worst measles outbreak in America since the 1990s — with hundreds of cases across the country, including 58 cases in a non-vaccinating community in New York, with each costing an average of $10,000 to treat.
What has caused parents’ refusal to vaccinate their kids? The authors of a recent Academy of American Sciences report say, “Over the past two decades, a combination of fraudulent scientific studies, irresponsible reporting, and well-meaning but misinformed citizen activists has led to a steady increase in the proportion of parents who have concerns about the recommended childhood vaccine schedule. While overall vaccine uptake rates in the United States remain high, these concerns have resulted in a significant expansion in the number of parents who are delaying, and in extreme cases even refusing, vaccines for their children.”
So what can public health officials do to educate parents on the importance of vaccinating their kids?
A study published this year in Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) suggests that trying to scare parents into vaccinating by using pictures of kids suffering from measles, stories about kids almost dying, or literature about the lack of evidence that the MMR vaccine causes autism are not effective. (These findings are contrary to other public health campaigns in which disturbing images have been successful.) In fact, the pictures of sick kids and dramatic stories actually increased misperceptions about the MMR vaccine.
The authors of the study conclude that more research should be done to find an effective way to convince parents that vaccines are safe and necessary, including relying on trusted people to deliver information about vaccines. “Given that parents rate their children’s doctor as their most trusted source of vaccine safety information,” they write, “future research should explore whether pediatricians would be an especially persuasive source.”