Dealing with parents’ mistrust of vaccines

As the Disneyland measles outbreak continues to make headlines and fuel public debate, health professionals seek more effective ways to convince parents who mistrust vaccines to get their children vaccinated, according to Barry R. Bloom, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor and Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Professor of Public Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Bloom, an infectious disease expert, discussed the measles outbreak, along with Boston Children’s Hospital’s Richard Malley, on the Greater Boston television program, “Vaccine Controversy: Myths and Facts,” which aired on February 11, 2015. Nationwide, he said, the good news is about 92% of all children that should be vaccinated get some vaccines—but not necessarily all of them. Sometimes children don’t get all the doses, or parents delay having their child vaccinated.

There are two main reasons parents don’t vaccinate their children, according to Bloom. “People are poor and don’t know that the federal government has a children’s vaccine program that could cover it,” he said. Then there are parents who don’t want their kids to get the vaccine. “Some are worried about toxins; some prefer things to be natural and vaccines are not as natural as getting sick from the real disease. Some is opposition and skepticism of science, distrust of government and distrust of industry,” he said.

One child with measles can infect 16 other kids who then will transmit the infection, Bloom said. “We believe vaccination is a service to not only a child, but to the whole community.”

Bloom also discussed some of the challenges health professionals’ face in trying to convince some parents to have their children vaccinated for measles in a February 4, 2015 WBUR CommonHealth article. “There’s no one-size answer that will fit all,” Bloom said There are many reasons why people delay vaccinations or don’t vaccinate children, ranging from misinformation to unfounded fears, putting the child and others at risk for getting the disease, he said.

Most parents do what doctors recommend because they believe doctors don’t want to harm their children. “Then there’s a very small group of people who, for a variety of ideological, certainly not scientific, reasons, are opposed in any manner, shape or form to being told what to do, to having government make requirements for school entry, and so on,” he said. “It’s very hard for me personally — and for many people interested in childhood immunizations — to believe that a lot of those people will respond either to scientific data or scientific and medical arguments.”

View the WGBH’s Greater Boston program: Scott Stepping Down, Mass. Snow Impacts Global Businesses, & Vaccine Controversy (measles segment appears at 08:10 minutes)

Read the WBUR CommonHealth story: How To Talk To Parents Who Oppose Measles Vaccines? We Don’t Know

Learn more

Big 3: Talking The Talk On Vaccines

The Forum: Vaccinating Children: Public Trust and Health

The Forum: Trust in Vaccines: Why It Matters