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Why Vaccine Skeptics Respond Better to Information Than Shaming

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The majority of kids in the U.S. are vaccinated against infectious diseases. However, in recent years, some communities have seen drops in vaccine rates, causing pockets of outbreaks of serious diseases like the measles and mumps—outbreaks that could be prevented easily with inoculation.

Because of these low-vaccine clusters, the question of how best persuade skeptical parents to vaccinate their children has been growing in recent years. Now, a new study published in the journal Health Promotion Practice offers a simple, but seemingly effective solution: Have parents who vaccinate their children talk, in a positive way, about why they value vaccines.

The study analyzed a three-year vaccine promotion intervention that took place in two different communities in Washington State. The goal was to reduce "vaccine hesitancy," which can lead parents to skip or delay vaccinating their kids, through messaging delivered by other parents.

"Making people aware of how many people vaccinate is very powerful," says study author Clarissa Hsu, an investigator at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.

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It worked. Over the study period, the number of parents who described themselves as "vaccine hesitant" fell over the three-year period from 23% to 14%, and the number of parents who said they were concerned about other people not vaccinating their kids rose from 81% to 89%. More parents also said vaccinating their kids was a good decision.

The researchers did not compare their findings to communities without the program, but the results suggest that productive conversations about vaccines—rather than criticism or shaming—can work well. "When the approach is confrontational, people tend to shut down and hold onto their positions more tightly," says Hsu.

But since most people do, in fact, vaccinate their kids, talking openly and productively about these choices appears to help. "Everyone is trying to make good decisions and protect their kids," says Hsu.

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