Media stories on parental vaccine hesitancy drive a false narrative, distort reality

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Media stories focusing on vaccine hesitancy can distort reality and drive a false narrative that a large percentage of parents are refusing to vaccinate their children, according to an editorial. New England Journal of Medicine By two pediatricians at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

The article, published online Saturday in the Perspectives section of the prestigious medical journal, said stories indicating widespread vaccine ambivalence among parents are at odds with the truth and may have long-term consequences.

The algorithms that shape our media diets are promoting the idea that parental ambivalence about routine childhood vaccines has become commonplace in the United States. The facts, however, are undeniable: In addition to the significant challenges of influenza and COVID-19 vaccination, most parents in the United States continue to choose to vaccinate their children according to the immunization schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

Sean O’Leary, MD, MPH, and David Higgins, MD, MPH, of the University of Colorado Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado

According to the authors, a recent Pew Research Center poll found 88% of adults have strong confidence in the value of childhood vaccines such as measles, mumps, and rubella. The survey also showed little change in the number of adults who said the cost of the vaccine outweighed any associated risks.

At the same time, a recent CDC study found 93% of kindergarten students received state-required vaccines. Another study found that vaccination coverage for 2-year-olds remained high and stable throughout the pandemic,

“The headlines are saying vaccine resistance is through the roof, the sky is falling,” said O’Leary, professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at CU School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. “There’s a real risk of the community buying into it and treating it as the norm.”

Higgins, a fellow and instructor of pediatrics at the CU School of Medicine and the CU School of Medicine’s Adult and Child Center for Outcomes Research and Delivery Science (ACCORDS), said the constant focus on the vaccine dilemma is a “dangerous, self-fulfilling” prophecy. .”

He said that perceived social norms, or what people consider normal behavior, can strongly influence their health care decisions.

“The most important thing we can do is normalize vaccinations. That’s what most parents do, vaccinate their kids,” Higgins said. “Our scientific community needs to better communicate the value of vaccination.”

Studies show that vaccination recommendations from doctors are more effective when made in a way that parents want to vaccinate their children. Recommendations may be less effective if clinicians expect prevention.

“Legitimate inquiries about vaccines do not necessarily indicate greater parental vaccine hesitancy. In our experience, most parents with such inquiries are not `antivaccine;’ “They believe vaccines are essential to their child’s health. One of the best parts of being a pediatrician is partnering with parents to address these good faith questions,” the authors wrote.

O’Leary, chairman of the committee on infectious diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said most adults don’t support vaccinating their children, but since the pandemic began and contrary to many media stories, pediatricians have told him that parents who previously refused to vaccinate were coming to vaccinate their children.

No doctor is suggesting that vaccine hesitancy is not a significant health threat in the United States

“We believe it will be essential to redouble efforts to increase trust and confidence in vaccines, including in populations that have been mistreated by the medical community,” O’Leary and Higgins wrote. “Given the complexity of this issue, addressing parental vaccine hesitancy requires a partnership between academic experts, community leaders, policymakers, public health professionals, and parents across disciplines.”


Journal Reference:

Higgins, DM, & O’Leary, ST (2024). The risk of normalizing parental vaccine dilemmas. New England Journal of Medicine.

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