You would be forgiven for thinking that vaccine-hesitancy is a brand new trend but distrust in immunizations has been rife ever since the very first jab back in 1763. However, back then they didn’t have the World Wide Web to share and spread such fears.
Despite the fact that history has shown us that vaccines work, smallpox has been completely eradicated after all, modern parents are still vaccine hesitant. And, with so many strong and polarised opinions, how do we know what’s right for our children and who can we turn to for advice?
First of all, it’s not just one simple reason. Vaccine hesitancy is a result of a number of complex issues.
Where once, we relied on GPs or government health ministers for guidance on health matters, expert findings and opinions are no longer enough. The healthcare industry is viewed with a level of skepticism. It is often seen as an impersonal money-making scheme, rather than having the health of the population at its core. As a result, people have started to look elsewhere for what they believe to be ‘unbiased’ answers.
Alternative medicine and holistic approaches have their place and benefits, but they have inadvertently resulted in widening the gap in trust with non-medical “experts” weighing in on major health issues.
These voices tend to be louder and drown out traditional medical sources even when they may have no formal medical training or knowledge. Despite this, the differing opinions opens a space for doubt to creep in. Once that seed is planted it is extremely hard to uproot.
When doubt is present it can turn very quickly to fear. There is nothing that snowballs quite as fast as fear and with the internet, it can spread even faster and go further than ever before. You could go as far as to say that fear is the most dangerous contagious disease we have to combat when it comes to vaccine hesitancy.
When a London-based doctor, published a report in 1998, falsely linking autism to the MMR vaccine, it created a wave of fear. Even though this paper has since been discredited and Doctor struck from the medical register, the damage was done, and fear took hold of parents.
The internet is a great resource of information, however, the majority of it is incorrect. Despite the ability to ‘fact-check’ now being easier than ever, there is still this tendency to read and believe, taking things at face value without stopping to wonder, “Is this site or author an authority on the subject? Are they professional or just opinionated? Have they checked the facts?”
Instead of asking the professionals, we look to Google for a diagnosis when we feel ill, we read the viral articles doing the rounds on social media which have been built on misinformation, and we get sucked into the sensationalist articles from the press which exaggerate and distort the truth. We also listen to the horror stories from our peer groups and communities, all of which adds to and spreads confusion, and fear.
Vaccine hesitancy often takes hold in small communities, amongst people who share similar religious beliefs, philosophies or ideologies which they hold above science. Not only does their shared world view add to the hesitancy, but being a close-knit community, news and views tend to travel quickly and may not be questioned to the same extent as in other communities.
As a parent, all we want to do is do right by our children. In order to do that we need information, the right information to make the best choices. We need to take responsibility to cut through the misinformation and scaremongering to get through to the truth.
That seems like a huge task for parents who are already pushed to the limits and with little time for research. But there are places to turn and small things you can do to ensure the information you receive is trustworthy.
Your first port of call should always be your healthcare professionals who have been specifically trained in immunology and vaccinations. Official government health organisations also receive their information from researchers and scientists with years of experience. This is the information you can trust.
If you are doing independent research, always check who is sponsoring the websites and make sure that any claims are backed up with scientific evidence. Pro vaccination forums which focus on research are a good place to start.
No one what to put their child at risk. Being well-informed with science-based facts from professionals and experts will allow you to make the best decision for the health of your child, your friends and family, and the wider community.
Founder and Director of the London Vaccination Clinic, Katy is a fresh, balanced and experienced voice in the vaccination and travel health industry. Her mission is to calm down the vaccination conversation so people can make an informed decision with access to the facts.
Having worked for Aid organisations in Africa and India and the private and public sector in the UK, Katy believes that globally everyone has a right to vaccination but more so, everyone has the right to clear and impartial information and choice. ‘There is a huge gap developing between clear factual information and scaremongering, emotive and exaggerated reports from both sides. People must have their questions answered without the excess noise. They must be allowed to listen, understand and supported in their decision making. We have the right to choose.
Katy is a recognized expert in the health travel industry known for her big hearted, engaging and fun speaking style. She is Chairman of the British Global Travel Health Association and founder of the upcoming Global Vaccination Summit where parents and health professionals can get unemotional information on vaccinations right now.