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Vaccine doubters may change their tunes when outbreaks are nearby, study finds

Vaccine doubters may change their tunes when outbreaks are nearby, study finds

  • Researchers at the University of Idaho surveyed more than 1,000 people on their views of vaccines across the US
  • Those who were skeptical of federal health officials and lived far away from disease outbreaks has negative views about inoculations 
  • But people who held the same skepticism and lived near an outbreak were more likely to have positive views 
  • This suggests that the more immediate a threat becomes, the more people prioritize protecting themselves over their general distrust of the government 

Vaccine doubters may be more likely to be open to receiving shots when disease outbreaks are nearby, a new study finds.

A growing number of Americans are distrustful of government health officials and particularly of vaccines, which misinformation has led some to believe put children at risk of autism.  

Researchers found that people who were skeptical of federal health organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), made decisions about vaccines – to some degree – based on how close they lived to an outbreak.  

Those who were wary of government institutions and lived far away from an outbreak took a much harder line against vaccines. 

But the University of Idaho team found that as the threat of a preventable illness – like the ongoing measles outbreak – loomed closer, even people who didn’t trust government recommendations were more pro-vaccine.   

A new study from the University of Idaho has found that people overcame their skepticism of federal health officials and had positive views on vaccines if they lived near a disease outbreak (file image)  

‘Citizens who are skeptical of the CDC and similar institutions base their vaccination decision-making to some degree on whether or not a given disease occurs in close vicinity to their community,’ said Dr Florian Justwan, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Idaho. 

Vaccine hesitancy, described as ‘the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines’ by the World Health Organization, has been increasing in the US. 

A survey from May 2018 found that support for vaccinations among Americans has fallen 10 percent in the last 10 years.

About 70 percent said common vaccines, such as those that protect against polio and measles, are ‘very important’, according to the poll from Research America and the American Society for Microbiology.

This is down from 80 percent who gave the same answer in November 2008.

Vaccine skepticism has become more widespread thanks to misinformation spread on social media, some shots that can cause mild side effects and (now debunked) studies that linked vaccines to autism.  

Experts also say that, as diseases have become less common, people don’t remember a time from before vaccines were commonplace.

‘There are infections we haven’t seen in years or we can’t remember the last time we saw them,’ Dr Michael Angarone, an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told in an interview last year.

‘So they ask: “Why should I vaccinate myself or my child if the disease is not around?” Well, then we’ll start seeing more cases of measles, mumps, and polio again.’    

This is the case with the most recent measles epidemic in the US that has sickened more than 1,200 people across 30 states. 

For the study, published in PLOS ONE, the team surveyed more than 1,000 people across the US in January 2017 following local measles outbreaks in 2016.

The participants were asked about their political beliefs and their opinions regarding vaccinations.

‘Trust in government medical experts is strongly and positively related to vaccination attitudes,’ the authors wrote.

People who were skeptical of organizations such as the CDC and didn’t live near an outbreak didn’t view vaccines favorably.

But those who held the same skepticism and lived in close proximity to an outbreak had more positive views.

Researchers found that people who had high levels of trust were not affected by their proximity to an outbreak.   

‘In this paper, we explore whether people’s vaccination attitudes with regards to measles are shaped by how far away they live from a recent outbreak,’ said Dr Justwan.

‘We find that this is the case – but only for individuals who also distrust government medical experts.