The MMR vaccine does not cause autism. The guy who initially made that claim made it all up, and literally no one since has found any evidence to support that claim.
We have known this for quite a while now, and yet, the anti-MMR fad is still going, and parents arent vaccinating their kids. And its the *kids* who suffer from their parents poor decisions.
So what are scientists and physicians to do? How can we get the message across to anti-vax parents?
Researchers in this paper tried four approaches to educate/get parents to agree to vaccinate their next child with MMR:
- Autism Correction– Text from the CDC on how there is no evidence MMR causes autism
- Disease Risk– Information about what happens to kids who get measles, mumps, and rubella
- Disease Narrative– A brief story from a mom whos baby almost died from measles
- Disease Images– Pictures of kids with measles, mumps, and rubella
- A story about bird feeding, as a control
I didnt think #1 would do anything. People who are anti-vax think everything is a big conspiracy, so information from the CDC would mean nothing to them. I thought maybe #2-4 would do something. Basic human empathy, surely people would see pictures of kids suffering from mumps, hear a story from a distraught mom about her baby almost dying from measles, and think ‘Oh my god! That could be my baby!’ Ive always said “Show anti-vaxers a video of a baby suffering from whooping cough. Its heart-breaking watching them struggle for air. Nobody can see that and think ‘Meh, who cares if that happens to my baby.’ Nobody.”
Surprisingly, the group of people who read #1 was the only group who saw a decrease in the belief that MMR vaccination causes autism. There was no change, however, in that group thinking that MMR can cause ‘serious side effects’.
Thats kinda good news, right? Maybe dispelling misinformation really is the key!
Well, when they split the ‘Autism Correction’ group into people who had low/mid/high favorability for the MMR vaccine, and asked them if they planned to vaccinate their next child, the people who didnt like the MMR vaccine, who now unquestionably knew the MMR vaccine does not cause autism, were still not likely to vaccinate their next child. The number actually decreased from the control group.
Across the other two groups (mid/high favorability of vaccines), intent to vaccinate their next child was already high (>90%), no matter what information group they were in, including the control.
This study tells me three things–
- People are really good at justifying their previously held beliefs. This isnt just with vaccines– any topic people feel strongly about, you can give someone evidence that directly contradicts their beliefs, and all you do is make them believe harder. “Okay, MMR doesnt cause autism, but <insert new reason for not vaccinating kid here>!!!”
- People suck at statistics. People think they will win the lottery, but they dont think they will ever be exposed to preventable, deadly diseases. The first thing out of every parents mouth when they are interviewed about their kid getting one of these diseases is “We never thought it would happen to OUR baby!” Showing them pictures of sick kids, literally giving them a story of a mom whos baby almost died because another kid brought measles into a waiting room, cannot overcome “Bad things wont happen to me or my family!”
- Its also possible people are kinda stupid on this topic. Viruses, bacteria, vaccines– these arent things people learn a lot about in high school science. Its possible that in some of the groups, parents misunderstood the disease stories/images, and thought the negative effects were due to the vaccine, not the viruses. Because this was a computer-based survey, there was no one there for them to ask questions. Maybe they just didnt understand what, exactly, they were being presented with.
The good news out of this paper is that people who already dont mind vaccines? They might have reservations and concerns, but they plan on vaccinating their kids.
The bad news is, the people who are anti-vax? None of these approaches helped. One made things worse, despite the fact the group accepted the presented information. So who the hell knows how to help the kids of anti-vaxers. *sigh*