The James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. have come together for an opinion survey aimed at better understanding the spread of the unfounded “vaccine panic” that prevents some parents from getting important immunizations for their children. The project, Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation, explores better ways to communicate a “vaccine-positive” message.
"Vaccine misconceptions have been running rampant, which should not only be concerning to science advocates but to parents and the greater public," said WTinc President Louise Kellar. "Previously it had been unclear which misconceptions had been taking a toll on parents. Through this survey that the JREF funded, we hope that that science advocates and educators will be able to focus their outreach efforts, thereby helping children have the best start in life and hopefully saving some lives in the process.”
The joint project is an opinion survey that includes data from hundreds of parents of young children. The survey data was collected by volunteers at events where parents may be especially vulnerable to “anti-vaccine” messages. The JREF and Women Thinking, Inc. is happy to make the results freely available to public health and science advocates to help inform their efforts to support childhood immunity.
“There are some provocative conclusions that may be drawn from the survey data,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe. “Although the scientific community has done a good job refuting the misinformation of the most vocal anti-scientific anti-vaccine campaigners, the survey data suggests that most parents do understand the importance of ‘herd immunity,’ but just consider this a greater risk than possible harm to their children coming from vaccination. We hope the information from the survey will help science educators and activists better understand parents’ concerns in order to help them make the healthiest choices regarding childhood immunity from dangerous diseases.”
The JREF-WTinc survey, conducted over the last two years and released to the public today, aims to help science advocates fill gaps in the public’s understanding of the vaccine panic. The opinion survey asked specific questions about parents’ beliefs and fears about immunization, their media consumption, and their conversations with friends, family, and doctors. From the report: “The most effective anti-vaccination arguments are those that induce fear in parents by naming frightening ingredients and by greatly exaggerating the risks of vaccinations. The best pro-vaccination arguments were those that focused on a good-parenting message, such as suggesting that not immunizing your child is equivalent to putting them in a car without a car seat.”
Background on the Vaccine Panic
In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a paper describing his researchâ€”secretly funded by lawyers planning to sue vaccine manufacturers which purported to find evidence linking one childhood vaccine with autism. Even though the British General Medical Council found that Wakefield had falsified his data, the British Medical Journal exposed his work as an “elaborate fraud,” and other research has shown no correlation between vaccines and autism, an unfounded fear of vaccines still persists. Media personalities like Jenny McCarthy have used their celebrity to urge parents to avoid immunizations for their children, and authors and publishers are still profiting by selling anti-vaccine books to parents. Immunization rates have dropped, and there have been new deadly outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles, whooping cough, and haemophilus influenzae type b, which were all but eradicated 15 years ago. Although most parents are still immunizing their children, a significant minority are delaying immunizations or skipping all immunizations except those required by law for children to attend public school.
About Women Thinking, Inc.
Women Thinking, Inc. (WTinc) brings science, skepticism and critical thinking to the women of the Midwest. WTinc’s Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated campaign aims to educate new and expecting parents, and the population in general, about the benefits and importance of having themselves and their children vaccinated by countering the misinformation and pseudoscience being promoted against vaccines.
About the JREF
The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) was founded in 1996 to promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and pseudoscientific ideas so widespread in our society today. The JREF’s Science Based Medicine project works to provide the public with reliable information about unproven alternative medical practices and dangerous medical myths. The JREF offers a still-unclaimed million-dollar reward for anyone who can produce evidence of paranormal abilities or certain pseudoscientific phenomena under controlled conditions. Through innovative resources for educators, free educational content online, and seminars and events, the JREF works to promote critical thinking and skepticism about harmful paranormal and pseudoscientific beliefs.