Making vaccines more accessible

flickr image courtesy of phitar

flickr image courtesy of phitar

While at a conference for my job last year, I saw a small anti-vaccine protest in front of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The protesters were there claiming that one of the components in vaccines, mercury thimerosal, causes autism, an assertion that has not been proven in countless scientific studies. What countless studies have proven is that vaccines have saved millions of lives and prevented life-debilitating disabilities, making immunization one of the most important public health discoveries in history.

There is a need to change perception of the safety of vaccines. The very ubiquity of vaccines cause people to take for granted the absence of deadly diseases like smallpox. Rejection of recommended vaccines may explain why there has been a resurgence of preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough.

A recent article in the New York Times discussed why false information tends to have influence even when it has been shown to be false. Source amnesia causes humans to respond to false information as though it were true despite being shown evidence that counters that false claim. Source amnesia may bear part of the blame for the existing perception that vaccines cause autism.

Overcoming this particular false perception represents a tough social marketing challenge. You have a highly vocal and motivated minority actively trying to stop a positive intervention. Fear and misinformation has taken the place of rational discussion based on scientific evidence. How do you make one perceived risk (autism) seem less dangerous and/or less likely than the actual risk (death and disability)?

For more information about vaccines, visit Voices for Vaccines.

Hat tip to Nedra for the NYT article link via Twitter.

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