About a decade ago, some not-so-smart parents, spurred by some not-so-smart Hollywood personalities, latched onto a now-discredited study that found a link between vaccines and autism. Fast forward to the present day, and the small but vocal so-called “anti-vax” crowd has ignited a national debate concerning vaccines, their safety and the role of parental autonomy in healthcare. Thankfully, the “debate” may be dying down: The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health found that from 2014 to 2015, many parents have a rosier outlook on vaccines than they did before.
“Over the last year there have been high-profile news stories about outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough. These news reports may be influencing how parents perceive childhood vaccines across the country,” says Matthew M. Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the National Poll on Children’s Health and professor of pediatrics and internal medicine in the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the U-M Medical School.
Overall, one-third of the parents who participated in the poll perceive more benefit to vaccines than they did a year ago. 25% say they perceive vaccines as safer now, as well. Dr. Davis said such an abrupt change of direction in views is “remarkable.”
Media coverage likely played a part in reforming some parents’ thinking. Multiple states saw outbreaks of previously-eradicated diseases like whooping cough and measles, and the measles outbreak originating at Disneyland last December received major national attention.
As a result of that outbreak, California recently passed some of the nation’s toughest vaccine regulations, which denies parents the right to enroll their children in public schools if they choose to abstain from vaccinating their them on the basis of personal or religious beliefs. Many parents were upset over the law because they felt it took away their freedom of choice as parents, while others remain convinced that the California government is in cahoots with “big pharma.”
“Media coverage of outbreaks over the past year, accompanied by messages about vaccines for whooping cough and measles, may be swaying parents’ opinions toward stronger beliefs in the positive aspects of vaccines. The impact of such shifts in perception will ultimately be measured by whether more parents vaccinate their kids,” said Davis.
Vaccines, which have only existed for less than a century, may very well be the greatest thing humanity has ever created, and now protect more or less every adult alive today. When too many people decide not to vaccinate, so-called “herd immunity” is diminished, and children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons suffer the consequences.