Pro-vaccine campaigns backfiring with some parents

Childhood vaccines are recommended to protect kids from serious illnesses and diseases, but some parents choose not to have their children vaccinated because they are worried about side-effects.

Public health experts have tried to reassure these parents that vaccines are safe in order to change their minds about vaccinating their children. But according to a study released last week in the journal Pediatrics, some of the campaigns meant to encourage childhood immunizations actually backfire and reinforce parents’ negative beliefs about their safety.

Parents in the study were given one of four pro-vaccine messages that have been used in efforts to increase vaccination rates. But none of these messages increased parents’ likelihood of vaccinating their children. Actually, two of the pro-vaccine messages had the opposite effect: increasing parents’ belief that vaccines cause autism and carry serious side effects. Read the abstract: Effective Messages in Vaccine Promotion: A Randomized Trial.

In 2011, another study was published in Pediatrics about communicating vaccine-safety information to parents. That study was part of a National Poll on Children’s Health, where parents were asked which sources of information they trusted about vaccine safety. Three quarters of parents said they placed a lot of trust in vaccine safety information from their children’s doctors. But 15% of parents said they placed a lot of trust in vaccine safety information from family and friends and 2% said they trusted vaccine safety information from celebrities. Read the abstract: Sources and Perceived Credibility of Vaccine-Safety Information for Parents.

Both of these studies demonstrate a communication gap between public health experts advocating for childhood immunizations and parents who have reservations about the safety of vaccines. Although many parents trust their children’s health care providers for vaccine safety information, there are still others who trust celebrities and friends and family for that information – and the safety information that’s currently being communicated by experts may actually be backfiring and reinforcing parents’ hesitations about the safety of vaccines.