NEW YORK (CBS Connecticut) – When it comes to educating parents about vaccines, current messages may be doing more harm than good, reports Live Science.
For years, public health advocates have been working to fight misinformation about vaccinations. For this study, researchers focused on the now discredited belief that the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) causes autism.
The myth comes from a 1998 British study that was retracted after the paper’s author was found guilty of misconduct.
But it has been persistent in the United States, especially after a vocal contingent of celebrities said they believe it.
Researchers surveyed 1,759 parents and taught them that the MMR vaccine and autism are not connected,
At the study’s start, the group of parents who were most opposed to vaccination said that on average, the chance they would vaccinate a future child against MMR was 70 percent.
After these parents had been given information that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism, they said, on average, the chance they would vaccinate a future child was only 45 percent, even though they also said they were now less likely to to believe the vaccine causes autism.
In other words, giving the parents new information made them less likely to trust vaccinating a future child.
“The first message of our study is that the messaging we use to promote childhood vaccines may not be effective, and in some cases may be counterproductive,” said Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor at Dartmouth College who researches misconceptions about health care. “We need more evidence-based messaging about vaccines. We don’t know what works, and we need to learn more, rather than relying on hunches or intuition.”
To counter this, he told Live Science, public health strategies must target opposition to vaccines by acknowledging that there are a number of reasons parents may feel uncomfortable vaccinating their child.
The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.
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