“I heard there is a microchip in the vaccine.” That’s what a surprising number of people have told Rupali Lemay, PhD, about why they don’t want their kids vaccinated.
They may also say they are concerned that some vaccines cause autism (a persistent myth with no basis in reality) or that recommended vaccine schedules are dangerously fast, that there are long-term side effects, that the government is withholding vaccine information, or that the infection is not serious , among other things, she says.
The problem, says LeMay, who studies human behavior and the spread of disease at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is that science simply does not support these ideas.
Vaccines It is a miracle of the modern world that protects against diseases like hepatitis B, diphtheria, polio, measles, and tetanus, which have killed and debilitated millions of people worldwide, says LeMay.
This is why the CDC, National Institutes of Health, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other reputable health organizations are very clear about the vaccination schedule that almost all parents should follow.
However, hesitation about vaccinating children persists.
And while it’s true that increasing misinformation fuels this reluctance, vaccination rates can also vary by society, tradition, or philosophical belief. American Indian and Alaska Native children are 10% less likely to be fully immunized than white children. There is a similar gap for black children.
Socioeconomic status can play a larger role. Children from families living below the poverty level are 30% less likely to receive all recommended vaccinations in their first three years of life.
In some cases, this reluctance stems from an exploitative medical history. For example, researchers in the infamous “Tuskegee Experiment” (1932-1972) deliberately failed to treat a group of black men with syphilis simply so that they could see the effects of the disease. And in the 1950s, research on birth control pills used the bodies of Puerto Rican women without their full consent. It’s easy to understand how this kind of history would make someone wary of mandates from the medical establishment.
Whatever the reasons, when parents skip government-mandated and doctor-recommended child vaccinations, they’re not just taking a chance on their children’s health. They also risk the health of the community, LeMay says.
Addressing vaccine gaps saves lives. Measles deaths worldwide fell 74% between 2000 and 2007, thanks in large part to increased vaccinations.
In the United States, marginalized communities seem to bear the brunt of the consequences of vaccine hesitancy. This is often because they lack adequate access to medical care and health education that can make all the difference during illness.
For example, hospitalization for influenza was 1.8 times more common among black residents between 2009 and 2022, than among white residents—American Indians were 1.3 times more likely, and Hispanics were 1.2 times more likely. But research has shown that delayed vaccinations in these communities may also be part of the problem.
Vaccination and religious identity
In 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, the measles outbreak reached its highest level since 1994. This happened because more and more parents opted out of MMR vaccine (which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella), often because of misinformation about its risks.
Vaccination rates for measles, mumps, and rubella must be around 95% to be effective. Less than that, there is a risk of an outbreak, especially in areas where children have not had two doses of the vaccine — which is all too common. (For example, data from 2016 showed that in some Minnesota counties, nearly half of all children under age 7 did not receive both doses.)
These measles outbreaks in 2019 were particularly notable in some of the Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, New York, where vaccination rates were low along with legal loopholes for religious communities.
Misconceptions about the safety of vaccination and how it relates to Jewish law were at the root of these outbreaks. But the increasing illnesses in children led to widespread community discussion among the New York State Department of Health, Jewish scholars, local health professionals, and the community at large, helping to raise vaccination rates and lower infection rates.
Other cases were more difficult to deal with. For example, early in COVID pandemicA 2021 Yale University study showed that a group identified as white evangelical Christians could be persuaded to get vaccines based on the greater good of society. But the research showed that the effect seemed to wane as the pandemic dragged on, possibly because attitudes about vaccines became more associated with certain political identities and viewpoints.
Still, there’s no reason why vaccination education shouldn’t work in religious communities, LeMay says. While research shows a trend of questioning vaccination among certain religious groups, only about 3% of people believe their religion explicitly prohibits vaccination, according to a 2022 University of Michigan study.
Teach, don’t preach
Vaccine awareness can turn the tide, but your approach can make all the difference.
Research indicates that campaigns that focus on a particular religious identity are more likely to elicit defensive reactions. Better to focus on the universal moral value of caring for others.
In fact, it’s often best not to directly contradict points of view, no matter how unusual they may seem, says LeMay. So what would you say to someone worried about microchips in a vaccine?
I say, ‘I know there’s so much information out there that it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. Let me explain a little bit about the vaccine development process. “
“Part of it is framing it in such a way that it’s a shared decision-making process,” she says.
Keep providing information, as you say. In one case, LeMay saw the mother of a child with asthma decide to get vaccinated after hearing another child with COVID died because he had also been infected. asthma.
Correcting new myths that pop up often can be a game of hit-the-mole, Limaye says. That’s why she has some general guidelines for how to talk to someone who might be misleading about the risks and benefits of vaccines:
- Listen to concerns, and don’t immediately correct beliefs that appear to be based on misinformation.
- Try to address individual concerns with facts from reliable sources such as the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, or the American Academy of Pediatrics. In cases where a person does not trust a source (such as the CDC), it is a good idea to have other reputable options.
- Consider offering something to read from a reputable source either in the form of a link or a hard copy. “Whether they ask for it or not, I’d rather give them something to look at than have them google something themselves,” says Limaye.
- Listen carefully for objections to what you are saying, and understand that persuasion can take much longer than a 15-minute conversation.
- give details. LeMay consults the medical students in her class to explain to parents and patients more information about how vaccines are made.
“And don’t talk straight to people,” LeMay says. We strive to meet them on their own terms. Personal stories are a great way to connect. If you have a personal story about a kid who got really sick because of a lack of vaccination, “I think that’s a really powerful thing.”