Life hack

How to deal with anti vaxxers

L et’s take a moment and praise anti-vaccine parents. Really. They’re wrong on the science, wrong on the politics, and deeply, morally wrong to deny their own children a simple disease preventive that they themselves likely enjoyed growing up. But like all parents everywhere, they’re acting on a simple, powerful impulse: to keep their children healthy.

That’s a very noble goal, but it’s also one of the things that makes it so bloody hard to change their minds on the topic of vaccines. Public service campaigns don’t work; nor do one-on-one explanations of why the rumors about a vaccine-autism link are wrong. In some cases, there is even a backfire effect: the greater the effort expended to persuade the anti-vaxxers, the more convinced they become that they’re right.

So it’s extremely good news that researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign may at last have come up with a way to cut through the misinformation and get the truth across: Don’t just tell parents to vaccinate their children, show them what happens if they don’t.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team led by graduate student Zachary Horne recruited a sample group of 315 people—both parents and non-parents—and first conducted a simple survey designed to measure their pre-existing attitudes to vaccines. The subjects were asked to respond on a six-point scale, from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree,” to five statements that included, “The risks of side effects outweighs any potential benefits of vaccines” and “I plan to vaccinate my children.”

All of the subjects were then divided into three groups: One group was given material to read about the latest research showing that autism and vaccines are in no way related. The second group was given a paragraph to read written in the voice of a mother describing what it was like when her child contracted measles; three pictures of children with measles, mumps and rubella; and written warnings about the importance of vaccinating children. The third group, serving as a control, read material on an unrelated science topic.

When the three groups’ attitudes to vaccines were tested again, the results were striking. Both the control and the so-called “autism correction” group showed a slight uptick in their approval of vaccines, but in neither case were the numbers terribly significant. The group that had learned about the wages of vaccine denialism changed markedly, however, with increased approval rates five times larger than those in the autism correction group and six times larger than in the control group.

“Rather than attempting to dispel myths about the dangers of vaccinations,” the researchers wrote, “we recommend that the very real dangers posed by serious diseases like measles, mumps and rubella be emphasized.”

As TIME reported in the Oct. 6, 2014 issue, this is precisely the approach that worked during the mumps outbreak in Columbus, Ohio last year. College students were nonchalant about getting vaccinated, but when they learned that the disease can lead to sterility in both men and women, they were a lot more inclined to step up for their shots. “I was pretty freaked out,” one Ohio State University student said. “I didn’t know mumps could lead to any of that.”

The power of the show-don’t-tell approach is nothing new. It’s the reason behind the anti-tobacco shock ads showing people dying of lung cancer, as well as the surgery fund-raising ads showing photos of babies with cleft lips. The trick in all of these cases is getting people to act fast. If too much time elapses between image and potential action, the power of the message is lost.

For that reason, Horne and his co-authors suggest that future research should look at the effectiveness of including the kind of counseling that was used in their study during routine well-baby visits, when vaccinating the child on the spot is an option. After all, the effect of scaring a parent straight may be temporary, but the damage done to a child who contracts a vaccine-preventable disease can be for life.

How to Deal with Anti Vaxxers

Thanks to a reduction in parental willingness to immunize children, vaccine-preventable diseases are on the rise. Last year, the U.S. witnessed three times as many measles cases as the previous year. Scientists are therefore trying to raise awareness of the importance of vaccinations, but this often seems a fruitless endeavor.

Now, scientists believe they could have come up with an effective intervention to help positively change people’s attitudes. Rather than focusing on reiterating scientific evidence, a group from the University of Illinois found they could moderate beliefs by reminding people of the harms that vaccine refusal can have. The findings have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Predominantly sparked by a now-retracted and scientifically flawed study claiming tenuous links between the MMR and autism, fears over the potential negative impacts of vaccines have been difficult to shake, and the web continues to be loaded with scaremongering pages spouting inaccuracies and misinformation about life-saving jabs. But if you’ve ever tried to argue in defense of immunization, you’ll probably be well aware that reminding anti-vaxxers of the evidence supporting their use is usually a redundant activity.

In fact, not only has this approach shown to be ineffective, but studies have also demonstrated that providing information that attempts to undermine misbeliefs about the supposed dangers of vaccination can actually backfire and strengthen negative attitudes.

“Perhaps we need to direct people’s attention to the other aspect of the decision,” lead author Zachary Horne said in a statement. “You may be focused on the risk of getting the shot. But there’s also the risk of not getting the shot. You or your child could get measles.”

With this in mind, researchers conducted a new study designed to test out the effectiveness of one potential intervention aimed at changing people’s anti-vaccination attitudes: highlighting factual information about the dangers of communicable diseases. After recruiting 315 volunteers, the researchers used questionnaires to probe their views on a variety of divisive subjects, including vaccination.

Participants were then randomly split into three groups that received different study conditions. One group was provided with scientific literature that refuted common vaccination myths. The second, a so-called “disease risk group,” was given various materials highlighting the risks associated with three vaccine-preventable diseases: measles, mumps and rubella. These included stories from parents whose children had suffered such diseases, images of infants with the infections and information regarding the potential consequences of failing to vaccinate. The final group was a control that was given unrelated reading material.

At the end of the study, participants’ attitudes were reassessed to see whether the intention to vaccinate their children had changed. Encouragingly, the researchers report, they found that the second intervention successfully changed people’s vaccination attitudes in a positive manner; even those with the strongest anti-vaccination beliefs could be countered with this technique.

“Of course, the skeptics are the people with the greatest amount of room to move, so in a sense that finding is unsurprising,” study author John Hummel said in a statement. “But it’s also extremely important, because those are precisely the people you want to move.”

Whether or not this intervention will be successful with the general population remains to be seen, but it would be interesting to see whether implementation in target areas could yield similarly positive outcomes.

As the rise in measles outbreaks continues, learning how to deal with patients against vaccines is a critical issue for doctors. How can you promote the health and safety of your patients when their decisions to refuse vaccines threaten public safety? How do you reason with patients who insist on the harmful effects of vaccines against overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

According to a recent CBS news poll, 66% of Americans say MMR vaccines should be required, leaving nearly a third who think parents should be able to decide, even with the recent outbreaks. In January alone, 102 cases of measles were reported. Most of these cases were in California where the outbreak was linked to Disneyland. In contrast, last year’s total of US measles cases was 644.

The cause of this surge in measles cases? Anti-vaxxer patients who identify with natural or alternative health movements and buy the anti vaccine movement’s wildly unsubstantiated claims that link vaccines to autism.

Because many anti-vaxxer patients are emotionally motivated by fear, it can be difficult or even impossible to convince them to vaccinate. However, some patients may change their minds about vaccines if you approach them in a consistent, empathetic way with the following strategies.

Don’t make vaccines a topic for debate.

When it’s time to vaccinate your patient, don’t ask the parent whether they want to vaccinate their child today. Instead, say it’s time for their vaccines. Assuming that parents will want to discuss vaccines or explicitly providing an option can perpetuate the view that vaccines are a risky decision. Default to stating rather than asking patient about vaccines, and then open the topic for discussion only if the patient has concerns.

Don’t assume everyone understands vaccinations.

Vaccines do their job. They keep our society from seeing the impact of serious illnesses. This means for many, vaccines may seem an unnecessary risk. David Ropeik, a risk perception expert and instructor at Harvard University, told NBC news “This has always been an issue of risk versus benefit. Why should they take the small risk of the vaccine if the disease isn’t around?” If a parent is apprehensive about a vaccination, explain the risks of the disease and the symptoms and long-term effects. Ensure parents understand the danger diseases like measles pose to children, as well as the responsibilities of isolating and treating the illness.

Ask what their concerns are.

Understanding parents’ fears is the first step to overcoming them. Don’t jump to conclusions or assume parents’ reasons for choosing not to vaccinate. Some parents may know a child who suffered adverse reactions from a vaccine, some may have drawn conclusions from their own research. Find out why a parent is hesitant before jumping to persuasion. Also, remember anti-vaxxers come from a wide range of economic and ideological backgrounds. As Tara Haelle puts it in Forbes, “[Anti-vaxxers] are less likely to think their children will catch a vaccine-preventable disease and more likely to know a child supposedly hurt by a vaccine. As a group, non-vaccinating parents have only one characteristic in common: They don’t vaccinate. That’s it.”

Don’t use facts as a fear tactic.

While informing your patients about vaccines is important, overwhelming anti-vaxxers with facts and statistics can isolate your patient and hurt your relationship with the patient. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that informative interventions can actually make parents less likely to vaccinate. Dr. Gary L. Freed of the University of Michigan, one of the study’s authors, says that the best course of action is instead to emphasize concern for the child. Parents who don’t vaccinate make the choice they think is best for their child. Though they may be misinformed, they’re acting from a place of love, and fear is no way to change their minds.

Make it an ongoing conversation.

Most parents will eventually vaccinate their children. Some will delay vaccinations or space them out over time. As a physician, it’s important to remember that some prevention is better than none. Even though delaying vaccines increases risk with no added benefit, that protection is better than an outright refusal. Even if parents have refused vaccines in the past, continue to bring them up at each appointment. Do what you can, don’t be afraid to raise the issue, and make sure parents know you’re always available to answer questions.

Evaluate your relationship.

In most cases, a patient decision not to vaccinate is a personal choice that doesn’t reflect on the doctor-patient relationship. But a greater personal connection with these patients could help you change their minds. Evaluate your bedside manner. Is this evidence of a physician-patient relationship that needs improvement? Could you do more to build trust and personal connection with that patient, or your patients in general? Be sure to emphasize an empathetic approach to patient communication. Consider also sending your anti-vaxxer patients to another physician if you feel their decision not to vaccinate will greatly impact you doctor-patient relationship. Have a list of doctors you trust on hand, and advise them in making the transition.

Consider whether to turn away anti-vaxxers.

Some doctors have started turning away anti-vaxxers from their practice. The AAFP recommends that in most cases doctors should respect patients’ decisions about vaccines. However, if you feel their decision is impacting your doctor-patient relationship or significantly affecting the health and safety of your other patients, consider creating a policy for turning anti-vaxxers away. Be sure to explain the reasoning behind this policy to patients. Eric Ball, a pediatrician in Ladera Ranch, California, explained his tactic to NPR: “”For our existing patients who have chosen not to vaccinate, we’ll likely give them a set amount of time to come in and discuss with the doctor a catch-up schedule for their vaccinations.” If the patients choose to forgo vaccination, they’re recommended to another practice. A very strong statement like this may even have enough power to change the minds of your anti-vaxxer patients, especially if it’s coming from a doctor who they trust and respect.

The best advice of all: don’t lose hope. In some cases, the only remedy to a vehement distrust of vaccines is time. John Tozzi points out in Bloomberg, “There’s a great distance between the laboratory and the kitchen tables of parents who surely genuinely care about their kids.” That distance may take a while to cross, but it’s worth the journey.

How do you approach patients against vaccines in your practice?


Senior Lecturer and Coordinator, Health and Medical Humanities, University of Sydney

Disclosure statement

Claire Hooker receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council. She works for the University of Sydney.


University of Sydney provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations

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Dismissing people’s worries as baseless, whether that’s about the safety of mobile phones or fluoridated drinking water, is one of the least effective ways of communicating public health risks.

Yet it is common for people to “reassure” like this, both at home and in professional roles as experts, officials or corporate managers.

Another poor but common strategy is to try to debunk “alt-facts” (lies or misleading statements claimed as fact) like those circulating among anti-vaccination or anti-fluoridation groups.

If your role is to communicate public health risks, it is particularly hard to resist trying harder to help people understand the evidence. This is especially the case when a risk is low, and hence public fears are not only out of proportion but also costly to redress.

If an official’s or doctor’s response to a parent worried about fluoridated drinking water is to show them even more data about how safe and effective it is, they often won’t sound convincing. Instead, they’ll look incapable of unbiased discussion. Indeed, the more information they show, the more it can look like propaganda. This approach can even make the opponent’s argument more memorable.

Not only are reassuring people and countering misinformation ineffective, they can end up doing a lot of damage.

Ineffective communication, however well intentioned, can even boost “alt-facts” by amplifying, not diminishing, people’s worries.

So public health officials, clinicians and involved community members need to shift strategies when dealing with low risks, from communicating evidence to hosing down what has been called “outrage”, another name for public concern.

1. Hose down your own outrage first

The first step may well be to hose down your own outrage, or your fear about the consequences of public misinformation. Our own outrage stops us listening well to what’s driving public concern. We tend to correct or reassure when we’re motivated by our own worries, strategies that can worsen polarisation in a debate.

Addressing public outrage comes next. This is the type of response that focuses on your audience’s needs and stakes out a middle ground where there’s some room to manoeuvre.

2. Respect people’s fears

There are good, research-based strategies to manage this type of outrage, starting with the principles of care and fairness.

At minimum, this means acknowledging and respecting people’s fears. A fearful parent needs to know we care about their concerns on say, vaccine safety, and that we have heard and understood their worries. That’s before they will care about what we say.

3. Build trust

One of the strongest predictors of whether someone believes or acts on a public health message is trust; if we can’t trust the communicator, we won’t believe the message. Care, fairness, competence and openness are all aspects of trust.

Trust is essential for us to be able to communicate effectively over the life cycle of a public health issue, whether that’s about a mistake in public policy, or when new studies lead to new information or recommendations.

So if you are unsure about communication, always choose the strategy that builds trust, as we discuss in a new paper in the journal Public Health Research and Practice from the Sax Institute.

Competence means you need to stick unswervingly to the integrity of scientific method and data where you discuss it. But competence and openness together are best served by being upfront about uncertainty and complexity. It’s better to err on the side of communicating early and often, rather than to wait in the hopes of providing a more reliable and consistent message.

4. Don’t panic about panic

If you communicate early and the messages change or are confusing, won’t people over-react? Yes, and your job is to hose down your outrage and tolerate such early and usually short-lived over-reactions. People resume their usual habits and choices once they see for themselves they are safe.

Tolerating early over-reactions allows you to remain a trusted source people listen to, even if people don’t change their general views about the risk (and don’t expect them to).

Avoid telling people “don’t panic”. Even calling someone’s fears “panic” is a way of diminishing them. What is “panic” to you is simply “not doing as you think I should” to an anxious public.

5. Your actions communicate more than your words

Think about what your actions say to the public. For instance, the Australian government’s decision to cancel all temporary visas from West African countries affected by Ebola virus in 2014 signalled that Ebola was a real, terrifying threat. This message undermined consistent reassuring official public health messages that the risk of transmission within the community in Australia was extremely low.

Helping people become less fearful can be as simple as giving them back some control in the situation, for instance by giving people concrete actions they can take. In the case of Ebola, that might mean monitoring their temperature if they think they have been exposed.

Public health units can also work with community members to develop or co-design their own solutions. Deliberative processes such as these, where people can see their stake in the outcome, can be exceptionally strong ways of enhancing public trust in processes and institutions.

6. Play the long game

Effective risk communication means playing a long game of “getting to maybe”, the “maybe” being where officials can still engage a resistant public, one frightened and persuaded by “alt-facts”.

The aim is to maintain the relationships and the dialogue, not to correct all people’s false beliefs. Ironically this provides the best protection against polarisation and “alt-facts”, and hence our capacity as a society to confront the risks we collectively face.

Julie Leask | Maryke Steffens

How to Deal with Anti Vaxxers

Your neighbour is telling you about his new baby. He feels nervous about vaccinating, and says he’s considering delaying Lucy’s vaccines. Your mother’s group is chatting about vaccines. One mother tells the group Jimmy isn’t vaccinated, and she’s using the Immune-Strengthening Diet instead.

In a Facebook parenting group, someone comments we shouldn’t trust pharmaceutical companies because they’re covering up studies showing vaccines cause autism.

These and similar scenarios may sound familiar. So what do you do when you’re faced with someone who questions vaccination? Do you try to convince them to vaccinate? Do you ignore them? Or might something else work?

Talking about vaccination can be really difficult. Vaccination touches on strong values, like protection of children, social responsibility, and respect for science.

So, if you’re a vaccination supporter, you may feel perplexed, even angry, when people don’t vaccinate their children. If you’re a parent who has overcome minor worries and vaccinated your child, it can be galling when another parent dismisses vaccination, putting others at risk.

But talking about vaccination can also present pitfalls. Attempting to convince someone with strong views they’re wrong can strengthen their commitment to their position.

Our work, with a team of researchers, clinicians and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, shows the best way to respond depends on the situation. Your approach will be very different with a person who has fixed negative views on vaccination, compared with someone who is cautious. How you respond also depends on what is most important in your relationship.

Here are some options.

1. Don’t go there

This approach is handy if you encounter a person with fixed beliefs. They may say, “I’ve done my research.”

Your automatic response may be to counter their claims, saying “The science is clear. Vaccinate your kids.”

But if the relationship with this person isn’t important to you, or their emphatic pronouncements are unlikely to do harm, then little is gained by engaging. People with fixed beliefs don’t budge much.

You may encounter active opposition to vaccination on social media. A small number of anti-vaccination activists colonise online forums.

So avoid protracted conversations. Facebook’s algorithm privileges posts with high engagement, so your interactions may bring them even more attention. Energised by the response, anti-vaccination activists may coordinate and bombard you or your organisation.

This is what happened to US clinic Kids Plus Pediatrics in Pittsburgh. The clinic eventually produced a guidebook on how to handle anti-vaccination attacks.

How to Deal with Anti Vaxxers

Debating anti-vaccination messages on social media can backfire.

Increasing the visibility of anti-vaccination posts can have other drawbacks. Onlookers may come to see vaccination as riskier, and vaccine refusal as more popular than it really is (in reality, only about 2% of Australian parents decide not to give their children some or all vaccines).

But countering anti-vaccine views can also bring benefits: it can diminish these negative effects, and affirm vaccination for hesitant onlookers or “fence-sitters”.

So which option is best? If this person’s posts are getting exposure anyway or they are influential, then you may decide that responding is worth the risk. Just keep any interactions brief, factual and polite. Otherwise, don’t go there.

2. Agree to disagree

Agreeing to disagree may be an option when you are with friends and family who hold firm views and whose relationship is important to you.

There could be a family get-together with your cousin who steadfastly rejects vaccination and the topic comes up in conversation. Family members start debating it. With strong views on either side, this could be explosive. Here you could say, “This is a topic we all have strong views about. We could just argue, but I propose that we leave this one alone.”

Discussing vaccination would not change your cousin’s mind. Her views are deeply held. Don’t let arguments get in the way of these relationships.

3. Affirm vaccination and move on

This option can be useful when you want to avoid conflict, but also advocate for vaccination.

Parent group situations might warrant this approach. For example, a couple at your antenatal class declare their plan to delay vaccination. While you might feel annoyed, try to focus on a strategic goal: showing other parents it’s not a group norm to delay vaccination.

You could say, “We are planning to vaccinate our baby. We think it’s really important.” While this probably won’t persuade the couple, it may reduce their influence on others.

4. Listen, affirm and recommend

This approach may be suitable when you are with family and friends who are hesitant about vaccinating. For example, your daughter and son-in-law are hesitant about vaccinating their child — your grandchild.

These relationships may be important to you, and you probably want to encourage them to vaccinate.

We and others recommend several steps:

Understand people’s concerns and motivations

Listen to what people say and ask clarifying questions. This helps you better understand their reasons. Avoid the temptation to jump in, and keep a check on your emotions.

Affirm them as parents

This means acknowledging their concerns, as well as their care as parents. A person who feels respected is more likely to listen to your viewpoint. It’s how we all like to be treated. You could say, “I can see you are trying to do your best.”

Offer to share information

Sharing information means giving factual information relevant to that person, explaining your view, and why you believe it. Use quality information, such as via the World Health Organisation’s Vaccine Safety Net portal. Personalise it: “I believe vaccination is important because …”

Close with a plan

This creates opportunities for future conversations. Some parents review their decisions, such as during a localised outbreak or when the child is older. It’s also good to have an exit strategy because vaccination discussions can go on and on. You might ask, “Can we talk about this again some time?”

Decide how you want to spend your energy

Responding to people who question vaccination can be hard. So be judicious about where you spend your energy.

If you truly want to make a difference, avoid the temptation to reflexively correct what you believe is wrong and getting embroiled in lengthy vaccination debates or games of scientific ping pong.

Jump in without thinking, and you risk wasting your time, affecting relationships with family and friends, or even inadvertently amplifying anti-vaccine views.
Instead, assess that person’s position on vaccination, your goals and what is most important in your relationship.

Information for parents who have questions about immunisation is available here.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Professor of business ethics, NYU Stern

Sometimes it takes rebellious youth to help us see the error of our ways.

Consider Ethan Lindenberger, an 18-year-old from Ohio. His act of rebellion wasn’t staying out past curfew or avoiding his homework: It was getting vaccinated on his own, despite his mother’s protests.

Lindenberger’s mother opted her children out of vaccines and fed them messages about the dangers of immunizations. As he posted on Reddit, “My parents think vaccines are some kind of government scheme. It’s stupid and I’ve had countless arguments over the topic.”

So when he turned 18, he asked Reddit how he could get the shots he had been denied throughout his childhood: flu, pneumonia, chickenpox, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, HPV, meningitis, MMR, tetanus booster, and TDAP (whooping cough).

Redditors gave him guidance, and the thread went viral. The whole episode ended with Lindenberger testifying to Congress earlier this month. In New York, his testimony moved two state lawmakers so much that they’re proposing a bill in the state legislature allowing teenagers 14 and up to get vaccinated—even if doing so goes against their parents’ wishes.

Lindenberger’s testimony and this bill couldn’t come at a more important time. A measles outbreak recently hit the state of New York, with almost 200 confirmed cases state-wide. In Brooklyn alone, there have been 133 reported cases of measles since last October. And around the country in just the first three months of 2019, 12 states have reported cases of measles—the fastest infection rate on record.

This was not supposed to happen. In 2000, the Center for Disease Control declared measles eliminated in the United States. So what changed in the two intervening decades?

Simple: a misinformation campaign about vaccines fueled by social media that has led to many more unvaccinated people.

How people become anti-vaxxers

Lindenberger’s mother is a prime case. Her information about vaccines came from “anti-vaxx” groups on Facebook. As her son put it, “She thought vaccines were a conspiracy by the government to kill children.”

She is not alone. On Facebook and elsewhere online, hives of misinformation and pseudoscience push the view that vaccines are dangerous—that they lead to autism, that they are a government plot, or that they cause the diseases they are supposed to prevent.

Researchers and doctors have thoroughly debunked these claims again and again. But in the digital world, myths masquerade as truths. And well-intentioned people like Lindenberger’s mother make unsafe decisions as a result.

How we can stop anti-vaxxers

What can to be done? For one thing, laws can help. In the same way New York state lawmakers took action, we need federal action to allow young people to take their health and safety into their own hands when their parents won’t. We also need to strengthen and support legislation that blocks unvaccinated children from attending school. Specifically, lawmakers need to close “religious exemption” loopholes, or severely limit them with the input of medical and public-health professionals, as they allow parents to put other people’s children at risk.

A federal judge recently supported that view: When parents of unvaccinated children attempted to allow their children to return to a school recently struck by a measles outbreak, the judge blocked their entry. He’s not the only one. In Italy, a new law went into effect this month that barred unvaccinated children under six from school and fined parents of children older than six for not vaccinating their kids.

This is not, as some critics would suggest, government overreach. It is common sense, and these proposed measures resemble the many laws on the books that protect the public interest, even when they proscribe individual conduct. For example, driver’s license requirements, prohibitions on smoking on airplanes, restrictions on falsely yelling fire in a crowded theater—these widely accepted examples put the public interest ahead of private interests. Legislation on vaccines operates in the same spirit.

Laws, however, take time to enact. What we can do right away is take action on sources of misinformation. The public needs to stand up and tell Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media platforms that enough is enough. Facebook has begun to take small steps in this direction: They’re banning anti-vaccine information from being promoted through ads, and lowering its rank in search results. But they could go further. Pinterest, for example, has blocked searches on vaccinations, and Amazon pulled anti-vaxx documentaries from their catalog altogether. Facebook needs to ban anti-vaccine posts outright, and public pressure could get them to do just that.

Finally, we need to hold our leaders and influencers accountable. No matter how many laws we change or how many platforms we fix, a single stray comment from an authority figure can undo years of work. That goes double for politicians—people whom we entrust to make decisions in the public interest. So when someone like US congressman Mark Green questions the value of vaccines, it isn’t enough to move on. Even though he has now flipped his position and insists he vaccinates his kids, it’s too late: He gave his credibility—and by extension, Congressional credibility—to those peddling dangerous hoaxes. This isn’t a purely partisan issue: Both Democrats and Republicans have questioned vaccines in Congress, sometimes going so far as berating the director of the Center for Disease Control. There’s no place for conspiracy theorists and science deniers in leadership, and they should be voted out of office when the next election comes around.

Ethan Lindenberger’s decision to disobey his mother is a clarion call. We are well past the point of debate on vaccines, and our society runs grave risks by allowing the numbers of unvaccinated children to rise and allowing scientific falsehoods to spread. It is time for society-wide action on this issue—changes to our laws, improvements to our sources of information, and firm resistance to those who peddle pseudoscience. Few acts could be more urgent or more important.

Anti-vaxxers have reacted with fury at Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement of free COVID-19 shots for all Australians.

August 19, 2020 12:38pm

Coronavirus vaccine deal ‘provides a pathway to normality’: Health Minister

With 168 possible COVID-19 vaccines under development globally, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Oxford University vaccine was chosen due to its apparent safety and effectiveness.

The Australian government has ordered more than 25 million doses of a possible COVID-19 vaccine. Picture: Eva Hambach/AFP Source:AFP

Anti-vaxxers have reacted with fury at Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement of free COVID-19 shots for all Australians.

The Morrison Government today confirmed the landmark agreement with drug giant AstraZeneca to manufacture more than 25 million doses of the promising Oxford University vaccine if it proves safe to use.

Mr Morrison subsequently told 3AW that the vaccine, if distributed in Australia, would “be as mandatory as you can possibly make it” but that “there are always exemptions on medical grounds”.

“You know where you can stick that vaccine ScoMo!” one reader wrote on Facebook. “Give it to your squad but don’t you dare come near me or my family with that poison!”

Another said, “Death shots here we come. Line up team sheep. Can’t wait.”

Bill Gates was a common theme. “Is this the one from Dr Bill Gates that believes in lowering the world’s population by use of vaccines significantly to help with ‘climate change’?” one reader asked.

Another said, “The grim reaper is in the house. Bill Gates must be rubbing his hands with all the billions of dollars that he will make.”

One added, “Considering Bill Gates is a eugenicist and this fraudulent orchestrated pandemic is all about the UN’s Agenda 21 and depopulation I think I’ll pass.”

Many comments questioned the need for a vaccine given the recovery rate.

“We need a vaccine for a virus that has a 99.5 per cent cure rate, without the vaccine. Let that sink in,” one wrote.

Another person warned “don’t order too many”. “Most people don’t need a vaccine for something that has a 99.96 (per cent) recovery rate and hydroxychloroquine is a much safer alternative,” she said.

The recovery rate in Australia is about 97 per cent.

An anti-vaccine protester in Spain. Picture: Javier Soriano/AFP Source:AFP

Many were also concerned about their vaccine coming with a side of 5G microchips.

“Leave my body alone Bill Gates, I don’t want your 5G tracking inside me,” one wrote.

Another said, “Say no to vaccines and no to chips. They can’t force you.”

Some questioned why the vaccine was “free”. It’s not – the Australian taxpayer will be paying for it.

“No company gives a multi-billion dollar vaccine away for ‘free’,” one commenter said.

“Also the pharma company also apparently states that they are not legally responsible for anything that goes wrong. It’s like playing Russian roulette. No thanks.”

One person explained, “The Mark of the Beast is here. That’s why it’s free.”

The question of whether the vaccine should be mandatory sparked heated debate, even among pro-vaccination readers.

“I’m no anti-vaxxer, I get my flu shot every year and an a very strong supporter of mandatory immunisation. This however sounds a bit scary,” one wrote.

“You can’t release a vaccine onto the public that has not gone through a proper rigorous testing program.”

Similarly, another said, “I’m not keen on any COVID vaccine. A successful vaccine takes years of testing and trials. All these COVID vaccines have been rushed, and we don’t know the possible side effects and long-term effects.”

One woman said she was “not choosing to be a anti-vaxxer”.

“I’m far from it, however I would be wanting way more information released about the vaccine before it’s injected into myself or into my family,” she wrote.

“I feel it’s been rushed, and no one knows about any of the side effects, long-term effects as yet.”

Public health experts have warned that even if a successful COVID-19 vaccine is developed, large numbers of people refusing to take one may prevent populations from reaching herd immunity.

Science Minister Karen Andrews says there is “enormous risk” people will believe conspiracy theories and refuse the vaccine.

“It’s just beyond the pale and disinformation or misinformation is dangerous and can lead to loss of life,” Ms Andrews told the Herald Sun.

“In my role as Science Minister I’m actually just not prepared to sit there and allow these people to promote pseudoscience.”

Ms Andrews suggested social media platforms had a role in clamping down on conspiracy theories.

Surveys in the US and UK have indicated up to half of respondents would either refuse or be hesitant to take a COVID-19 vaccine.

An Associated Press survey in May found of the half of Americans who wouldn’t get vaccinated, seven in 10 worried about safety.

“I am not an anti-vaxxer,” Colorado Springs woman Melanie Dries told AP. “But to get a COVID-19 vaccine within a year or two … causes me to fear that it won’t be widely tested as to side effects.”

Calling them stupid and selfish won’t change their minds.

How to Deal with Anti Vaxxers

Photo: Illustration: Rachel Neser

Anti-vaxxers have been around for a long time. The movement can be traced right back to the invention of the first vaccine more than a century ago when Edward Jenner figured out a way to protect people from the deadly smallpox disease.

In 1796 Jenner discovered that by injecting people with the cowpox virus, their bodies could build immunity to smallpox. The technique was highly effective and the government decided it should be compulsory for all children. But this led to strong opposition from some with religious, political, and safety fears.

In 1855, about 100,000 anti-vaccinators marched in the town of Leicester and subsequently, a law was passed allowing parents to object to vaccination without penalty.

How to Deal with Anti Vaxxers

The Cow Pock — or — the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation. J. Gillray, 1802. Photo: National Library of Medicine

The disease – which is estimated to have killed at least 300 million people during the 20th century – was eventually eradicated thanks to the smallpox vaccine but the anti-vax movement arguably slowed down the process.

Vaccines are counted as one of the greatest public health achievements in human history, yet unsubstantiated claims about the danger of vaccines still circulate. The groups who oppose vaccinations are the minority, yet some say their decisions help vaccine-preventable diseases to spread – and this affects everyone.

Parents who receive warnings about vaccinations are twice as likely to delay having a child immunised, New Zealand research has found, and vaccine refusal has been shown to have an association with the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.

In New Zealand, the immunisation rate for measles still hovers below the 95 percent mark needed for herd immunity and parents choosing not to vaccinate is one of the reasons for measles outbreaks in the country.

But not everyone who doesn’t vaccinate is a staunch anti-vaxxer; there is a continuum of hesitancy about vaccines and nearly all parents are just trying to do what’s best for their children.

Michelle Nicholls is a district nurse who used to oppose vaccinations. She says the first step to talking to anti-vaxxers is trying to understand where they’re coming from, and approaching the topic with love and empathy.

Nicholls grew up in small-town New Zealand where her mum worked as a midwife. She received all of her childhood vaccinations but recalls that when her younger siblings were born, her mum had begun to question whether vaccines were actually safe.

“She’d come across some articles that suggested that vaccinations were politically-motivated and heard through friends that she respected that there were some risks,” says Nicholls.

Thinking she was doing the right thing, her mum would give anti-vaccination pamphlets to parents she was looking after.

As Nicholls grew up, she took on her mum’s immunisation skepticism and developed some of her own. She was left-leaning, environmentally conscious and passionate about sustainability and being anti-vax just felt part and parcel.

“It was partly an image thing. I figured it just fit into the package of beliefs. To be honest, I feel a little bit embarrassed about having been anti-vax,” she says,

Before Nicholls’ son was born, she started a degree in nursing at Massey University and started to learn more about how research works.

“When you do anything medical, you do the basics of learning how to interpret research papers, learning what a qualitative versus quantitative study is, learning what makes something statistically significant, learning to look at the sample size – all of that kind of stuff,” she says.

“I feel so passionately about it now because there is, literally, zero science to the anti-vaccination movement.”

“It’s really easy to get sucked into emotive YouTube talks by someone whose daughter has been disabled but look at the science because if you want to find the truth, you need to find it through a valid course.”

There’s a misconception that anti-vaxxers just haven’t done any research. Health journalist Tara Haelle points out that they’re actually well-educated and informed – it’s just that it’s with the wrong information.

After finishing her nursing degree, Nicholls trained to become a flu vaccine administor and learned even more about the efficacy and safety of vaccines. But she still understands some of the anxiety some parents feel.

“I remember taking my son in for his first vaccinations and even though I knew all of the science, I was still so nervous because it’s your precious little baby.”

As with all medicine, there is the risk of anaphylaxis for anyone who gets a vaccine. But it’s well-managed and extremely rare.

“Severe allergic reactions are scary. It happens to about 1 in every million people who get a vaccine but vaccine administration is so tightly controlled now that whenever we give a one, we have the adrenaline right there.”

Nicholls is still good friends with people who oppose vaccination. She tries not to bring up the topic since she knows it can get heated, but after her best friend posted a link to an anti-vax article, she had to speak up.

“I got into one Facebook argument about it, just because this article was suggesting that a doctor was forcing vaccines on people. No. We can’t force vaccines on anyone. We have something called informed consent so that insulted me as health professional for one and everything in the article was so inflammatory. I just kinda got stuck in and nothing, nothing good came of it,” she said.

“After that, me and my friend decided not to talk about it. That is a shame but I get really worked up. It’s just one of those things that seem to escalate so quickly.”

“You’d think having been anti-vax would help my case seeing as I used to agree with everything they’re saying, but it doesn’t help that much.”

Simply giving parents facts about vaccines doesn’t necessarily work. Research has found that for different people, different morals resonate more effectively and parents who are concerned about vaccines highly value liberty and purity.

Conversations with anti-vaxxers could be more effective by taking a page from their book and focusing on points that better align with their morals, like reminding parents that vaccines work with a natural system in our bodies.

“The spread of misinformation is going to be a danger long term”, Nicholls’ says. We are at risk of the herd immunity dropping if more people choose not to immunise their children. We’re going to see a resurgence of a lot of these diseases,” says Nicholls.

She wants to be able to talk to her friend again about vaccinations but knows she’ll have to tackle it differently. For one, she says she won’t be having the discussion online.

“I learned don’t have this conversation on Facebook; have it face-to-face when you can see the person you love and respect.”

She notes that shaming anti-vaxxers, calling them stupid and selfish, won’t change their minds and is almost always untrue.

“I think coming from a place of love is important and understanding that we all want what is best for our kids,” she says.

Copyright © 2017 , Radio New Zealand

The no-vaccine crowd has persuaded a lot of people. But public health can prevail.

The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.

    Jan. 19, 2019

How to Deal with Anti Vaxxers

The World Health Organization has ranked vaccine hesitancy — the growing resistance to widely available lifesaving vaccines — as one of the top 10 health threats in the world for 2019. That news will not come as a surprise in New York City, where the worst measles outbreak in decades is now underway. Nor in California or Minnesota, where similar outbreaks unfolded in 2014 and 2017, respectively. Nor in Texas, where some 60,000 children remain wholly unvaccinated thanks in part to an aggressive anti-vaccine lobby.

Leading global health threats typically are caused by the plagues and perils of low-income countries — but vaccine hesitancy is as American as can be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children who are unvaccinated has quadrupled since 2001, even though the overall utilization of most vaccines remains high. More than 100,000 American infants and toddlers have received no vaccines whatsoever, and millions more have received only some crucial shots.

It’s no mystery how we got here. On the internet, anti-vaccine propaganda has outpace d pro-vaccine public health information. The anti-vaxxers, as they are colloquially known, have hundreds of websites promoting their message, a roster of tech- and media-savvy influencers and an aggressive political arm that includes at least a dozen political action committees. Defense against this onslaught has been meager. The C.D.C., the nation’s leading public health agency, has a website with accurate information, but no loud public voice. The United States Surgeon General’s office has been mum. So has the White House — and not just under the current administration. That leaves just a handful of academics who get bombarded with vitriol, including outright threats, every time they try to counter pseudoscience with fact.

The consequences of this disparity are substantial: a surge in outbreaks of measles, mumps, pertussis and other diseases; an increase in influenza deaths; and dismal rates of HPV vaccination, which doctors say could effectively wipe out cervical cancer if it were better utilized. But infectious disease experts warn that things could get much worse. Trust in vaccines is being so thoroughly eroded, they say, that these prevention tools are in danger of becoming useless. The next major disease outbreak “will not be due to a lack of preventive technologies,” Heidi Larson, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, writes in the journal Nature, but to an “emotional contagion, digitally enabled.”

Thwarting this danger will require a campaign as bold and aggressive as the one being waged by the anti-vaccination contingent. And to launch such a campaign would require overcoming strong inertia: a waning public health apparatus, countervailing politics and a collective amnesia over the havoc the diseases in question once wrought. But to succeed would be to rescue from oblivion one of the greatest triumphs of human ingenuity over disease — and to save countless lives.

Here’s how to get started.

Get tough. After the 2014 California measles outbreak, the state eliminated nonmedical exemptions for mandatory vaccinations. After a similar outbreak in Michigan, health officials there began requiring individuals to formally consult with their local health departments before opting out of otherwise-mandatory shots. In both cases, these tougher policies drove up vaccination rates. Other states ought to follow this lead, and the federal government should consider tightening restrictions around how much leeway states can grant families that want to skip essential vaccines.

Be savvy. The Vaccine Confidence Project is a London-based academic endeavor that monitors anti-vaccine websites for rumors and conspiracies and addresses them before the messages go viral. It also conducts regular surveys of attitudes and puts out a vaccine confidence index. Federal health officials would do well to implement a similar program, make it as public as possible and pair it with an aggressive and targeted social media campaign that makes as much use of celebrities as the anti-vaccine movement has.

Be clear. Vaccines, to some extent, are victims of their own success. In the United States especially, they’ve beaten so many infectious foes into oblivion that hardly any practicing doctors, let alone new parents, remember how terrible those diseases once were. An effective pro-vaccine campaign needs to remind us: Vaccines prevent two million to three million deaths globally each year. In developing countries, people line up for hours to get these shots. It’s also O.K. to get out of the gray zone. Scientists, especially, are uncomfortable with black-and-white statements, because science is all about nuance. But, in the case of vaccines, there are some hard truths that deserve to be trumpeted. Vaccines are not toxic, and they do not cause autism. Full stop.

Know the enemy. The arguments used by people driving the anti-vaccination movement have not changed in about a century. These arguments are effective because they are intuitively appealing — but they are also easily refutable. Instead of ignoring these arguments, an effective pro-vaccine campaign would confront them directly, over and over, for as long as it takes. Yes, there are chemicals in vaccines, but they are not toxic. No, vaccines can’t overwhelm your immune system, which already confronts countless pathogens every day.

Know the audience. Not every parent with concerns about vaccination is a rabid conspiracy theorist bent on resisting inoculation forever. In fact, studies suggest that less than 2 percent of all parents fall into this category. The rest of vaccine-hesitant families sit along a spectrum. Some reject all vaccines but are still open to receiving information. Others are only worried about one specific vaccine. And others still are merely anxious and looking for reliable information. Any successful campaign will need to mind this diversity and prioritize listening to concerns as much as dispelling myths.

Enlist the right support. Some doctors and scientists have referred to “uneventful vaccination” as “The Greatest Story Never Told.” Though they may not spread on the internet like the stories of terrible mishaps that anti-vaxxers traffic in, these far more common tales of inoculation without incident can be a powerful elixir for a nervous new parent. The best ambassadors of these stories are likely to be parents themselves. Surveys suggest that pro-vaccine families are often eager to help counter misinformation, but they don’t know where to start. If health officials corralled these families and trained them in the basics of vaccine science, they might succeed where official voices sometimes fail.

In France, 1 in 3 people disagree that vaccines are safe. In Bangladesh, almost 98% of people believe that vaccines are both safe and effective.

Last updated on June 19, 2019, at 9:17 a.m. ET

Posted on June 19, 2019, at 12:02 a.m. ET

How to Deal with Anti Vaxxers

An infant sits in her mother’s lap for a measles shot at a clinic in Kiev. Ukraine has had more than 40,000 measles cases so far this year.

Worldwide, 79% of people believe vaccines are safe, according to a new study that provides the most detailed picture yet of attitudes toward vaccination.

But views on vaccines vary greatly from country to country according to the survey, which included some 140,000 people across more than 140 countries and was backed by the Wellcome Trust, a medical research charity based in London.

Highlights include Bangladesh, where almost 98% of people believe that vaccines are both safe and effective. But there are also trouble spots, including France, where 1 in 3 people disagree that vaccines are safe, and Ukraine, where only about half of the population thinks that vaccines work.

Both of those countries have in the past couple of years been gripped by serious outbreaks of measles. France had 2,913 cases in 2018 and 964 so far this year, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization. Ukraine recorded 42,874 cases by the end of April this year, following last year’s count of 53,218.

The Wellcome team also asked people about their knowledge of science and their trust in scientists, medical professionals, and institutions, including the government and media. The survey has provided fresh insights into why people in some countries have low confidence in vaccines — despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they are safe and effective.

“It’s the first time we’ve got this global picture,” Wellcome Trust head of public engagement Imran Khan told BuzzFeed News.

“This landmark survey shows that understanding people and society is as important as understanding viruses and immunology,” Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said in a statement.

Overall, some of the biggest problems with trust in vaccines are in Europe.

In countries like France, Switzerland, and Austria, attitudes seem to be highly polarized between those who agree that vaccines are safe and effective and those who disagree. But in Ukraine, Belarus, and other vaccine-hesitant countries in Eastern Europe, the main problem seems to be a large number of people who are unsure what to believe — they neither agree nor disagree that vaccines are safe and effective.

“I think that’s the group that’s still open to discussion and there’s an opportunity there,” Heidi Larson of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, told BuzzFeed News.

A new study has identified the hotspots of philosophical and religious vaccine exemptions : the paperwork that (in some states) you can fill out in lieu of getting your kindergartener vaccinated. Most are in rural areas, but 15 mid-size cities have a dangerous combination of a large population and a high rate of these exemptions.

These are non-medical exemptions, by the way; all states allow medical exemptions for children with immune system disorders or other conditions that would make vaccines too risky for them. And ironically, those children who are unable to be vaccinated (and those who are too young to be vaccinated) are the most at risk from policies that allow healthy people to skip out on vaccines.

Why Hotspots Matter

One person can’t spread a vaccine-preventable disease by themselves. Imagine you go on vacation and catch measles, and then come home and start coughing on all your neighbors. If they’re all vaccinated, the disease won’t go far. (The measles vaccine is 97 percent effective for people who get both recommended doses.) A few vaccinated folks will be able to catch and spread the disease (3 percent of them in our example), but that’s just not enough people to sustain an outbreak. So that’s why it’s concerning any time there is an area with a lot of unvaccinated people—which is exactly how measles spread in Disneyland in 2015 . You need a combination of a lot of people to cough on, and a high percentage of them unvaccinated.

The researchers who made the map above also looked for counties with more than 400 kindergarteners with non-medical exemptions. They found 15, and the largest cities in each of those counties are:

  • Phoenix, AZ (2,947 exemptions in 2016-2017)
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Seattle, WA
  • Portland, OR
  • Troy, MI
  • Provo, UT
  • Houston, TX
  • Fort Worth, TX
  • Plano, TX
  • Warren, MI
  • Detroit, MI
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Austin, TX
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Spokane, WA (405 exemptions)

If you’re suprised California didn’t make the list, that’s because after the Disneyland measles outbreak, the state passed a law eliminating non-medical exemptions. The next year, California saw an uptick in the number of kids who were supposedly medically unable to be vaccinated , but in total, exemptions went down and more kids got vaccinated .

How to Deal with Anti Vaxxers

But the fact is, there are likely more hotspots than just the ones on the list above. It’s not like anti-vaxxers marched their teenagers to the doctor the day California’s law passed; unvaccinated kids (and adults!) are still out there. There may be plenty of unvaccinated people in states that don’t have the exemptions, too, especially if state law makes it easy to get a not-entirely-honest medical exemption.

Beth is Lifehacker’s Senior Health Editor. She has written about health and science for over a decade, including two books: Outbreak! and Genetics 101. Her Wilks score is 302.

How to Deal with Anti Vaxxers

Fifteen miles west of Minneapolis, a billboard looms over a field of tall grass beside Highway 55. The sign features a photo of Evee Clobes, a baby girl with sparkling eyes, flushed cheeks and an expression frozen in wonder. Next to her face are the words, “HEALTHY BABIES DON’T JUST DIE.” The web address of a group opposed to mandatory vaccinations is at the bottom.

Since her death in March, Evee has served as a literal poster child for the anti-vaccination movement. Her face and chunky legs — adorned with Band-Aids from her shots — are featured on anti-vaccination websites and billboards. The story of her death is told at protests, read aloud at statehouses, and offered up by her mother and other activists as proof of the horror vaccines can bring.

Evee’s story, as her mother Catelin Clobes tells it, is of a healthy 6-month-old who died 36 hours after a checkup where she got several vaccinations. Clobes and an army of online activists now say the vaccines caused Evee’s death. That belief, and Clobes’ willingness to make Evee part of a national media campaign, have turned the grieving mom into a rising star in the anti-vaccination world. Her Facebook posts draw hundreds of thousands of views, and multiple fundraisers set up by anti-vaccination activists on her behalf have raised tens of thousands of dollars. She has become a champion of other anti-vaccination parents around the country.

But there’s a problem with the story at the heart of this crusade, and with Clobes’ new role as an anti-vaccine heroine. Her local medical examiner has ruled that the evidence — collected in an autopsy and by first responders — shows Evee accidentally suffocated while co-sleeping with her mother.

Anti-vaccination activists have long targeted their message to parents of autistic kids. They have also, however, pursued another vulnerable population of parents searching for answers — mothers and fathers of babies who have died unexpectedly, especially when the deaths are linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. At a time when the U.S. faces the largest outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses in decades, a network of activists is finding new recruits to the anti-vaccination cause by raising questions about the sudden deaths of several dozen babies and young children.

That network includes discredited physician-turned-anti-vaccination celebrity Andrew Wakefield, whose retracted study popularized the false belief that vaccines are linked to autism; Del Bigtree, a former “Dr. Phil” producer who runs the country’s most well-funded anti-vaccine nonprofit, Informed Consent Action Network; and social media activist Larry Cook, who hosts the largest and most active anti-vaccination community on Facebook.

How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement

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“Science professor Berman debuts with a useful guide for readers concerned about the opposition to vaccinations. The book’s greatest value comes from its insights into how common cognitive errors can lead even the well-informed to see false correlations between vaccination and health problems. Berman also provides practical suggestions about how best to engage, and potentially convert, vaccine opponents, arguing that ‘people change their own minds; we can’t do it for them.’ Given hopes for a Covid-19 vaccine, this accomplished exploration of a vexing topic couldn’t be more timely.”

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Reader Resources

  • Watch Jonathan Berman’s talk about “Anti-vaxxers” with Seattle Town Hall.
  • Watch Jonathan Berman’s talk about “Anti-vaxxers” with Science on Tap.
  • Read an op-ed by Berman in STAT News.
  • Read an excerpt from “Anti-vaxxers” in PopMatters.
  • Read an excerpt from “Anti-vaxxers” at
  • Read a review of “Anti-vaxxers” in the Financial Times.
  • Read a review of “Anti-vaxxers” in the Washington Post Book World.
  • Read a Q&A with Jonathan Berman about “Anti-vaxxers” in the New Humanist.

Endorsement Small Arrow

Written by one of the founders of the ‘March for Science’ movement, Anti-vaxxers is a tour-de-force examination of anti-vax arguments that is destined to become a classic in the field. Before you get into another argument with an anti-vaxxer, simply pull this book off the shelf, hand it to them, and say ‘here.’

Research Fellow, Center for Philosophy and History of Science, Boston University; author of Post-Truth and The Scientific Attitude

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A history of the anti-vaccination movement, from its nineteenth-century antecedents to today’s anti-vax activism, offering strategies for refuting its claims.

Vaccines are a documented success story, one of the most successful public health interventions in history. Yet there is a vocal anti-vaccination movement, featuring celebrity activists (including actress Jenny McCarthy and British rapper M.I.A., who attracted attention for tweeting during the pandemic “If I have to choose the vaccine or chip I’m gonna choose death”) and the propagation of anti-vax claims through books, documentaries, and social media. In Anti-vaxxers, Jonathan Berman explores the phenomenon of the anti-vaccination movement, recounting its history from its nineteenth-century antecedents to today’s activism, examining its claims, and suggesting a strategy for countering them.

After providing background information on vaccines and how they work, Berman describes resistance to Britain’s Vaccination Act of 1853, showing that the arguments anticipate those made by today’s anti-vaxxers. He discusses the development of new vaccines in the twentieth century, including those protecting against polio and MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and the debunked paper that linked the MMR vaccine to autism; the CDC conspiracy theory promoted in the documentary Vaxxed; recommendations for an alternative vaccination schedule; Kennedy’s misinformed campaign against thimerosal; and the much-abused religious exemption to vaccination.

Anti-vaxxers have changed their minds, but rarely because someone has given them a list of facts. Berman argues that anti-vaccination activism is tied closely to how people see themselves as parents and community members. Effective pro-vaccination efforts should emphasize these cultural aspects rather than battling social media posts.




Jonathan M. Berman


“Science professor Berman debuts with a useful guide for readers concerned about the opposition to vaccinations. The book’s greatest value comes from its insights into how common cognitive errors can lead even the well-informed to see false correlations between vaccination and health problems. Berman also provides practical suggestions about how best to engage, and potentially convert, vaccine opponents, arguing that ‘people change their own minds; we can’t do it for them.’ Given hopes for a Covid-19 vaccine, this accomplished exploration of a vexing topic couldn’t be more timely.”

“Berman dispels anti-vax fears and subterfuges with straight, scientific evidence.”

“The book does not attack the movement, but rather provides readers with historical and cultural context to understanding the beliefs of those within the anti-vaccination movement…Recommended for those countering the anti-vaccination movement, as well as those with an interest in cultural and historical antecedents of the movement.”

“This accessible and informative book provides not only a rational analysis of the many sources of anti-vaccine thinking, but also practical ideas that can be used to overcome objections against vaccines. Extensive notes and references make this a good starting point for readers who want to delve deeper.”

“Berman, an assistant professor of basic science at an osteopathic medical school, explores the history of anti-vaccine movements and how best to counter them. Such movements, he finds, share beliefs and features: wariness of government control, distrust of the medical establishment and its products, false claims about vaccines (often made by people with economic interests), and unfounded fears of harm, spread by misinformation and social media. Those most vulnerable to such claims are often parents trying to decide what is best for their children’s health. Rather than learning from reliable sources why childhood vaccines are necessary to protect both individuals and the population as a whole from infections, they may receive unreliable information from others in their community who oppose vaccination. Berman’s advice on how to talk with people who are uncertain about vaccinating their children is enlightening and practical.”

The Washington Post Book World

“A clear and insightful book.”

“Anti-vaxxers is a book that reminds us of the historical precedents to the odd alliances — anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-5G, for instance — that are getting in the way of public health right now. By taking the story of vaccine opposition back to its earliest examples, Anti-vaxxers cautions against simplistic solutions. In tracing the movement across three centuries, Berman underlines that is unlikely to be ended by keyboard warriors or the repetition of even the best scientific evidence.”


Written by one of the founders of the ‘March for Science’ movement, Anti-vaxxers is a tour-de-force examination of anti-vax arguments that is destined to become a classic in the field. Before you get into another argument with an anti-vaxxer, simply pull this book off the shelf, hand it to them, and say ‘here.’

Research Fellow, Center for Philosophy and History of Science, Boston University; author of Post-Truth and The Scientific Attitude

In Anti-Vaxxers, Jonathan Berman reveals the strategies, influence, and psychology of a movement that the World Health Organization has called one of the top ten threats to global health. An urgent and engaging read.

Professor of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; author of Overkill: When Modern Medicine Goes Too Far

The government has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine being developed by Oxford University

  • 14:55, 22 JUL 2020

How to Deal with Anti Vaxxers

Hopes for a working coronavirus vaccine by Christmas are growing after the dose being developed by Oxford University triggered an immune system response during tests.

To have a vaccine available for everyone before the end of the year would be an optimistic scenario , but experts are encouraged by the progress the Oxford vaccine is making and hope they are on the right track.

If anyone is lucky enough to get a vaccine by the end of 2020 it will be key workers and people in high-risk groups who are first in line, with the rest of the public following later as more doses are manufactured.

The government has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine being developed by Oxford University and a further 90 million doses of other vaccines being worked on, so if even one of them turns out to be successful then plenty will get the chance to be protected against Covid-19.

Ordering doses of multiple vaccines helps cover for the potential that some of them might be found not to work during the testing process . If a vaccine ends up being distributed among the population then you can be sure that it has been proven to work.

Early trials of the Oxford vaccine, being developed along with AstraZeneca, have indicated it is both safe and effective when getting a response from the human immune system .

It appears to work with few side effects beyond a brief fever or headache, a small price to pay for immunity against the deadly virus which has killed tens of thousands of people across the UK and many more around the world.

If the UK can get millions of doses of a working vaccine then the final two issues will be logistical and personal.

The logistics of getting millions of vaccines sent all over the UK to the people who need them are difficult, but the real issue is the people who need to be vaccinated and refuse to do so.

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A vocal minority of Brits have said they wouldn’t take a coronavirus vaccine if one was offered, with around 14 per cent of the public saying they’d reject a vaccine and a further 13 per cent undecided .

Anti-vaxxers have protested against a potential Covid-19 vaccine, with some claiming that the pandemic is “no more deadly than seasonal flu” and the death toll has been “greatly exaggerated”.

The protestations of anti-vaxxers have no basis in fact. Whatever information they are basing their claims and fears on is ill-founded and misleading.

Much of the skepticism around vaccines comes from stories with no foundation in science being shared online, particularly on social media sites, leading to untruths taking root.

The supposed “evidence” anti-vaxxers base their conclusions has about as much validity as a conspiracy theory , it has no foundation in truth and on a matter as serious as a global pandemic is likely to cost lives if people believe them.

The Facts

Let’s be utterly clear about this: vaccines work .

What they do is teach the immune system how to recognise a disease and deal with it, often using dead or inactive cells of the disease for the immune system to practice on. When confronted with the active disease a vaccinated person is ready for it.

They protect the inoculated against serious diseases and help stop the spread of illness by reducing the number of people who get sick. If enough people in a community are vaccinated then even the unvaccinated can be protected as diseases find it harder to be spread through the population.

If a coronavirus vaccine reaches a point where it is being used on the public at large then you can be sure it’s been tested thoroughly and will help protect you from Covid-19.

The side effects of getting a vaccine are minimal. Some people being tested for the Oxford vaccine are reporting brief fevers and headaches, a preferable alternative to dying from the coronavirus or being left with a lasting health condition because of it.

To address two of the main lies about vaccines: they don’t cause autism and they don’t weaken the immune system.

There is no scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism. The myth that they do has long since been debunked, though it remains difficult to convince people who were duped by the false claims.

Vaccines make the immune system stronger by teaching it how to deal with diseases a person might encounter. A few people may get mildly ill for a couple of days as a side effect of vaccination but that is the extent of the danger.

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How to Deal with Anti Vaxxers

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Readers often stick to their regular sources of news therefore often only ever seeing one side of a story. Perspecs will give you the opportunity to see things from a different perspective and allow you to form your own informed opinion.

Perspecs will publish 1 edition per day and each edition will be packed with a variety of interesting and sometimes controversial topics. Most importantly, there will be three sides to every story.

We have managed to eradicate a number of deadly diseases through widespread vaccination, with diseases such as smallpox, polio and tetanus either gone or incredibly rare when they used to be widespread.

The most dangerous thing a person can do with a vaccine is refuse to use it. The World Health Organization named “vaccine hesitancy”, where people with access to vaccines either delayed or refused them, as one of the top 10 largest threats to global health.

In fact, a drop in the rate of MMR vaccinations meant the UK lost its “measles elimination” status in 2018, cases of measles and mumps rose as a result of a rise in parents refusing to vaccinate their children.

When a vaccine is proven to be successful then do the responsible thing for yourself and those around you, get vaccinated.

By Laine Clark and Scott Bailey

Gold Coast coach Justin Holbrook says the Titans are prepared to play without Bryce Cartwright and Brian Kelly after they were stood down for refusing to receive a flu shot.

Holbrook is keeping his fingers crossed the Queensland government will accept the NRL’s biosecurity guidelines that allow players to sign a waiver to refuse the vaccination.

It would clear Cartwright and Kelly to return to training after they were stood down following the intervention of state authorities under a ‘no jab, no play’ policy.

The Queensland government was expected to make an announcement as early as Monday but talks with the NRL are ongoing.

Holbrook said the Titans could not afford to be distracted by the controversy and would “crack on” as they count down to the May 28 NRL restart.

“It could be resolved in a couple of days but it could be weeks or they may not play for the rest of the season,” Holbrook said.

“It would be great if this situation can be resolved quickly.

“If not we have to prepare to play a game in three weeks and we have enough players to fill those spots.

“It’s not ideal but we have to crack on without them and get on with it.”

Holbrook said he was among the majority who would get the shot but admitted the choice was not that simple for Cartwright and Kelly.

“I am one of the 98 per cent…of the community who would say just get the shot and come back to work,” he said.

“For those uncomfortable getting the shot there is a bit more to it.

“It is a difficult one.

“Those two per cent they have different views and different circumstances; it is not easy for those guys.”

Up to 20 players across the NRL have refused to be vaccinated for varying reasons.

A biosecurity document sent to players and governments last week by the NRL said all players must receive the vaccine, unless they sign a waiver to continue playing, but the Queensland government stood firm.

NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant reaffirmed on Monday her state wouldn’t adopt Queensland’s stance.

“It is really a matter for the NRL as a workplace employer to consider their occupational health and safety obligations,” Chant said.

But the NSW government has pushed for as many people as possible in the state to have the vaccination.

NRL players’ union board member and Cronulla captain Wade Graham has been vocal, putting pressure on his colleagues to accept the jab.

Brisbane veteran Darius Boyd said on Monday players would have to abide by the protocols or accept the fact that they couldn’t play.

“We all have to do our best to get the game up and running,” he said.

“If you have different beliefs that’s fine but they are the rules.”

However, Canterbury’s Sione Katoa posted a passionate defence of his anti-vaccination stance.

“We used to be very pro-vax and judged those who chose not to vaccinate,” he said on Instagram.

“Those judgements quickly passed as soon as vaccines caused health issues for our eldest son, Chase.

“After seeking advice from medical professionals and seeing the positive impact that it had on our sons health, we made the informed decision to no longer vaccinate ourselves or our children.”

How to Deal with Anti Vaxxers

Certain that they are right, struggling to find ways to get their message across, public health officials are exasperated by their inability to convince more U.S. parents to vaccinate their children.

“I think we’re all kind of frustrated,” said Stephen Morse, a Columbia University infectious disease expert. “As scientists, we’re probably the least equipped to know how to do this.”

They say they are contending with a small minority of parents who are misinformed — or merely obstinate — about the risks of inoculations. The parents say they have done their own research and they believe the risks are greater than health authorities acknowledge; they are merely making their own medical choices, they say.

Most parents do bring their children for shots, and national vaccination rates for kindergarteners remain comfortably above 90 percent. Experts aren’t even sure the ranks of families who don’t vaccinate are growing to any significant degree.

But in some states, the number of parents seeking exemptions from school attendance vaccination requirements has been inching up. In some communities, large proportions of household skip or delay shots. The rise has come despite unsettling outbreaks of some vaccine-preventable diseases that had nearly disappeared from the United States.

“Part of the reason everyone is so concerned about this is because they don’t know whether things will get worse,” said Dr. Walter Orenstein of Emory University, considered one of the nation’s leading experts on vaccines.

Experts see the cooperation of physicians as a key to prodding families to get old and new vaccines. They believe too many family physicians and pediatricians have been lax. Some doctors perhaps see themselves as too busy to spend time debating the value of vaccines with resistant families. Some have complained about the cost and hassle of stocking the shots. A smaller contingent may have their own questions about vaccine, and indulge families that want to postpone or skip shots.

ACIP has been looking at the problem. So has another national panel — the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, chaired by Orenstein — which two years ago convened a Vaccine Confidence Working Group to study the issue. In a draft set of recommendations presented this month, the group said there’s not enough good information on where clusters of unvaccinated people are, to what extent they are growing, and why they exist.

The workgroup is recommending more study, and better training of physicians so that they will work harder to present childhood vaccination as the sensible way to go.

Another strategy is to simply make more parents vaccinate, through a concerted effort to eliminate philosophical exemptions to vaccinations or to make the exemption application process more demanding. Several experts interviewed believed reducing exemptions is the most practical approach, in a country where individual freedoms are sometimes celebrated at the expense of the communal good.

I’m on record as being in favor of severely limiting personal exemptions for vaccinations, and taking a punitive approach as needed to compel the obstinate holdouts to comply. If you want to call this a matter of freedom, I say it’s my freedom to live a healthy life that’s at stake. Be that as it may, it would be much better if people were more willing to comply on their own. Ruth Graham, writing in Slate, makes an important point about this.

“There is a history of paternalism in medicine,” said Jordynn Jack, an associate professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill whose 2014 book Autism and Gender explores how ideas about gender have affected debates about autism, including the vaccine controversy. “The language that’s used by the scientific community to communicate that vaccines are safe sometimes falls into that paternalistic model. ‘I’m telling you what’s right, and I’m telling you as a scientific authority,’ ” Jack said. “For some people that’s persuasive, but for others it’s not.” In her book, Jack dissects how contemporary mothers often think of themselves as “warriors” on behalf of their sick children, fighting first for a diagnosis and then for treatment. If procuring basic care for a sick child feels like a battle, then why trust the enemy’s propaganda?

Concern about not being taken seriously by medical professionals causes other problems for women as well. Surely by now we have learned that a successful outreach program depends on being able to speak to people in a way they will relate to. Seems to me that’s a good place to begin here as well. Of course, as this AusChron post points out, people have to be willing to listen, and to understand what they’re being told, too.

Factually is a newsletter about fact-checking and accountability journalism, from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network & the American Press Institute’s Accountability Project. Sign up here.

Anti-vaxxers are adopting new tactics

In May, Instagram announced that it would block hashtags that promote “verifiably false” information about vaccines. The move came after similar efforts from other social media platforms to restrict vaccine misinformation.

But anti-vaxxers have developed some clever workarounds to Instagram’s restrictions.

Coda Story reported Dec. 6 that anti-vaxxers have started using coded hashtags to continue promoting the false belief that vaccines are dangerous. Prior to Instagram’s announcement, anti-vaccine users promoted posts with hashtags like #vaccineskill, whereas now, users are using abstruse hashtags like #learntherisk and #justasking.

“Tactics like spelling vaccines with a cedilla (vaççines) or using a bracket (va((ines) to try to avoid detection by Instagram also proliferate on the platform,” Coda Story wrote.

Another way anti-vaxxers have tried to dupe Instagram’s controls is to co-opt the language used primarily by abortion rights advocates, such as #righttochoose and #mybodymychoice. And it’s not just online.

NBC News reported Dec. 6 that anti-vaccine organizers have been harassing legislators and doctors in person. Similar to how anti-abortion protesters will stake out women’s health clinics to heckle patients, some anti-vaxxers have started to confront parents outside of doctors’ offices.

“Some of the protesters sat with signs, while others stuck anti-vaccine propaganda under car windshield wipers in the parking lot,” NBC wrote about one demonstration on Long Island, New York, in October. “Several approached parents entering the building with their infants, asking, ‘Are you vaccinating your baby?’”

The backdrop for those demonstrations, which used to be almost entirely online, is a global outbreak of measles. In Samoa, the preventable illness has led to more than 65 deaths — and the reason why has to do with vaccine skepticism there.

“Whereas flawed health-care systems have been associated with surges in measles cases in some countries, the key reason for Samoa’s woes appear rooted in recent anti-vaccine activism, which pushed vaccination rates to dangerously low levels,” The Washington Post reported Dec. 6.

To try to abate the health crisis, Samoa made the measles vaccine mandatory and arrested anti-vaccine campaigners. In response, anti-vaxxers started leaving one-star reviews for the country’s government on Facebook.

If these events tell us anything, it’s that anti-vaxxers are among the most coordinated — and dangerous — misinformers on the internet. And as they continue to refine their coordination tactics and take them offline, they have real potential to affect ongoing public health crises.

. . . technology

  • Worried about post-trauma disorders, fact-checkers in India set guidelines for self-care. Boom’s fact-checking team, for example, now follows six rules to keep everyone mentally safe.
    • Those interested in learning how to deal with photos and videos featuring lynchings, child abuse and other crimes should visit the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma’s website, which offers relevant tips and many articles about handling traumatic imagery .
  • CrowdTangle has launched a new and improved search for fact-checkers. The tool will make it easier to search for posts about a specific subject across Facebook, Instagram and Reddit.

. . . politics

  • The national security law website Lawfare looked at how the impeachment investigation report from U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) handled false claims and conspiracy theories. The report’s strategy, the authors said: “Deny it the attention it needs to grow.”
    • “The Schiff report shows remarkable discipline in marrying the shorthand used to describe conspiracies with modifiers that underscore their untruthfulness,” they wrote.
  • In the runup to Britain’s general election today, much false content has come from the parties and candidates themselves, as opposed to foreign meddling, The New York Times reported .

. . . the future of news

  • An updated version of IFCN’s 2016 Code of Principles has been approved by an overwhelming majority of its verified signatories and will be introduced worldwide in March 2020. Among other changes, applicants will be required to have published an average of at least one fact check a week for at least six months in most countries, and 12 weeks in countries where the IFCN already has five or more signatories, to be eligible to apply.
    • The updated code will also require those parent media companies that want their fact-checking units to be signatories to also follow an honest and open corrections policy, said IFCN’s senior adviser, Peter Cunliffe-Jones .
  • Journalists today operate in an environment of misinformation and polarization, while also being mistrusted and maligned by politicians who seek to discredit their work. API has published a new report synthesizing some experts’ strategies to deal with these challenges.

It’s hard to predict what would happen if a complex piece of legislation were to become law. In the United States, looking at a bill’s potential effects is the job of a nonpartisan legislative scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office.

But once CBO “scores” a bill, its numbers are often cherry-picked and sometimes taken out of context by people seeking to advocate a particular outcome. That’s what happened when PhRMA, the lobbying group for the pharmaceutical industry, created an ad asserting that a drug pricing plan from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would “siphon” $1 trillion from biopharmaceutical innovation over 10 years.

In a fact-check delivered this week , (Poynter-owned) PolitiFact and Kaiser Health News painstakingly deconstructed the ad and its numbers, ultimately concluding that it was “mostly false.”

What we liked: The fact check not only dissected the numbers, but also detailed other factors at work. For example, noted writer Shefali Luthra, a lot of drug research and development is actually done by the government as opposed to the drugmakers. The fact check is also evidence that the PolitiFact-KHN partnership, which began this year , is bearing fruit in the health care policy space.