If we really want to convince parents to vaccinate their children, name-calling and vilification is not the way to go.
Yet, that seems to be a common tactic. You don’t have to go far on social media to find out. Here’s an example from Twitter:
Craig Levine @AstronomerXI “Let’s call #antivaxxers what they are: pro-disease, pro-death, pro child-suffering, ignorant, arrogant, stupid, fanatical, brain-washed, pathetic, selfish.”
Having lived through polio epidemics as kid, I don’t have to be convinced of the benefits of vaccination. Polio vaccines not only saved lives, it removed my fear of going to movies and school, and of going out to play.
The danger is real. A measles outbreak in the U.S. is at a 25-yar high. Three-quarters of those who caught the extremely contagious disease are children or teenagers.
Canada has large pockets of unvaccinated children. In Ontario, they have things in common:
“Those students tended to have things in common. For instance, unvaccinated children with non-medical exemptions were more likely to go to private or religious school, or be home-schooled, live in a rural area or a community with a small- to medium-sized population and be located in the southwest and central west regions (Globe and Mail, April 30, 2019).”
The Vancouver area is also experiencing a measles outbreak this year. And in neighbouring Washington a state of emergency was declared due to a measles outbreak -although no cases have been linked to B.C.
As is typical of character assignation, reluctant parents have been unfairly grouped together. But they are not monolithic say professors Julie Bettinger and Devon Greyson of UBC and the University of Massachusetts, respectively:
“While dismissing non-vaccinating parents as anti-science, uneducated, conspiracy theorists might be tempting, we find these stereotypes represent only a small minority of this population (Globe and Mail, April 22, 2019).”
Professors Bettinger and Greyson found that these stereotypes represented a minority of non-vaccinating parents. They surveyed, interviewed, and observed more than 2,000 parents to understand what causes vaccine hesitancy and how to address it.
First, despite the characterization of non-vaccinating parents as “pro-death” and “pro child-suffering,” they have the best interests of their children at heart. Additionally, they care about other children who can’t be vaccinated and who are at risk.
Yes, they may fear the safety of vaccines as a result of what they have heard from people they trust. Some lack of knowledge of the extensive testing and safety monitoring that ensures our safe vaccine supply. Sometimes their reluctance is born from a lack of trust and a perceived betrayal by the health care system -they don’t believe anything medical researchers tell them.
Some indigenous people don’t trust the colonial system that decimated their communities by purposely introducing disease.
They may live in remote areas and face barriers of getting to clinics. Access can be a problem for urban dwellers, too, for those who can’t get time off work to take in their children.
Some fear talking to health-care providers about their concerns because they’ll be labelled as “one of those parents.”
The remedy to vaccination-resistance is not easy. Trustworthy relationships must be developed. Mobile clinics with extended hours will help. Name-calling and the failure to address the genuine concerns of parents will only deepen the divide.