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Parents Trust Vaccines Less If Learnt About Online Or From Friends

Rates of vaccination against preventable diseases, especially in children, are dropping. What's the cause?
Rates of vaccination against preventable diseases, especially in children, are dropping. What’s the cause?
  • Distrust in vaccines is leading to increases in vaccine-preventable diseases
  • Parents trust vaccines more if learnt about from their healthcare provider
  • Healthcare providers vital in influencing parents to be vaccine acceptant

Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic, the media has been saturated with news of vaccines. At first it was speculation on how long they would take to make and test. Then, after they were deemed safe, there were debates over how they should be distributed and how long it would take to administer enough doses to have a meaningful impact. However another common, and more worrying trend in vaccine discussions concerned whether COVID-19 vaccines could, and should, be trusted. 

Vaccines are one of the most important inventions in human history, providing us with protection against various life-threatening infectious diseases. In fact, the World Health Organisation lists 28 diseases, excluding COVID-19, which we have effective vaccines for. A number of them are even given to us before we learn to walk. 

However, there is currently a global decrease in the rate of vaccination and subsequently an increase in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, especially in children. This includes hepatitis, measles and whooping cough, to name a few.

What is behind this decrease in vaccination rates?

According to research from Nazarbayev University’s School of Medicine, it could be dependent on where you are getting your information about vaccines from.

Dr. Mohamad Aljofan and colleagues studied the attitudes and views of parents toward vaccines and childhood vaccination. Their research found that 71% believed vaccines were effective and 65% believed they were good, while 35% were sceptical or hesitant toward vaccines.

The participant’s level of education did not appear to influence whether someone was vaccine hesitant or not. Most importantly, the research demonstrated that it was where an individual had sourced their information on vaccines from which appeared to have the most significant influence on their vaccine hesitancy. Those who received information from healthcare providers had no concerns whatsoever regarding vaccinations. However those who primarily used the internet, family or friends as a source of vaccine information did not trust their physicians and believed that vaccination was not important for children’s health. 

Dr. Aljofan, the senior author of the study, says; “Vaccine hesitancy or refusal is one of the most important global health threats of our time. The World Health Organisation estimates over 1.5 million children die from vaccine-preventable diseases globally and that immunisation programmes save more than 3.2 million lives a year. However, there is a global increase in the rate of scepticism over vaccinating children. We believe the reasons for vaccine refusal are similar across countries and appear to be based on ‘pseudoscience’ or false claims of major vaccine side effects.”

The most well-known and wide-reaching of these false claims include the myth of a link between autism and vaccination. This is believed to be the long-lasting effect of a fraudulent research paper from the 90s which claimed the MMR vaccine was linked to autism spectrum disorders in children. A reporter at the Sunday Times in the UK investigated and exposed the fraud, which led to the author of the paper being struck off the medical register. However, the damage had already been done and some people today still associate vaccinations with autism. In fact, in this study, almost one-quarter of respondents still attributed autism to childhood vaccinations. 

Immediately after COVID-19 vaccines were developed, the internet became littered with conspiracy theories that might dissuade people from having them, including claims that they include tracking microchips, that they will somehow alter your DNA and even that they contain tissue from human foetuses. 

The internet can be a wonderful tool, that allows anyone with access the ability to increase their knowledge on almost any topic. Unfortunately the internet is also filled with those both consciously and unconsciously sharing untrue and unfounded information. This has been so pervasive, and sometimes dangerous, throughout the pandemic that social media platforms have had to explicitly commit to tackling misinformation shared on their platforms. 

The researchers explain that, as those who trusted their healthcare providers have no concern in regards to vaccinations, doctors and other healthcare professionals play a vital and influential role and in changing parents from being vaccine hesitant to vaccine acceptant. This is important, they say, as there is an urgent need to increase public awareness about the benefits of vaccination to children and the community as a whole – not just for COVID-19, but for all vaccine-preventable diseases. This research proves that we need to think more carefully about where we are getting our information. And if you are ever unsure of the information you are reading about vaccines online, perhaps it’s best to simply go straight to the most knowledgeable source on the topic: healthcare professionals themselves.

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