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Combating misconceptions about vaccines just spreads the myths even more

Posted August 13, 2017

There is a lot of misinformation about vaccinations. Some people purposely are trying to demolish the image of vaccines in public eyes, portraying the procedure and medicine itself as something extremely harmful for a child and society. However, scientists from The University of Edinburgh say that battling misinformation is not as easy as it looks.

Current strategy is simple – dumping loads of information disproving arguments of people who are against vaccines. However, that may have an opposite effect. Scientific facts are often presented to people to try and convince them that vaccines are needed and they are not causing health concerns as some people say. But it may be pushing public opinion further to the undesirable direction. Another common strategy is showing pictures of children with preventable conditions, but it is also not very effective. Why is that? Because both strategies involve repeating misconceptions.

Vaccination procedure may not be the most pleasant one for children, but it is absolutely necessary. Image credit: James Gathany via Wikimedia

Scientists conducted an experiment in Scotland and Italy. They surveyed people about their attitude towards measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which is wrongfully accused of causing autism. Then these people were presented with some information about these so called facts and how they correlate with real scientific explanations. Surprisingly, repeating these misconceptions even in a context negating them just pushed people to believe them more. They were getting familiar not only with scientifically proven data, but also with myths that are arguing against vaccination.

For example, one group was shown a leaflet that confronted vaccine myths with facts and the second group was given a series of tables comparing potential problems caused by measles, mumps and rubella with potential side effects of the MMR vaccine. There was a third group too, which got its information about the diseases in a form of images. Scientists performed several surveys more and found that all three strategies were counter-productive. Professor Sergio Della Sala, one of the authors of the study, said: “These findings offer a useful example of how factual information is misremembered over time. Even after a short delay, facts fade from the memory, leaving behind the popular misconceptions.”.

So what would be a good solution? You cannot simply allow these people believe that vaccines are harmful, because children may get easily preventable diseases. Scientists say that the best way to spread the knowledge is to perform a variety of simultaneous and frequent interventions, as opposed to a singular campaign. Reducing the cost and improving accessibility of vaccines is important as well.


Source: The University of Edinburgh

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