Taking Vaccine Concerns Seriously
By Katherine Hobson
When it comes to assuaging concerns about vaccines, scientific information is not enough.
That point is made by two papers out today. One,appearing in the Lancet as part of a special series, finds that vaccines â€œare losing public confidenceâ€ and that their acceptance (or lack thereof) is â€œneither driven by scientific nor economic evidence alone, but is also driven by a mix of psychological, sociocultural and political factors, all of which need to be understood and taken into account by policy and other decision makers.â€
The paperâ€™s lead author, Heidi Larson, is from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her co-authors work in the U.S. and Finland, and one reports having received funding from Novartis for advisory and trial monitoring work; another works for Johnson & Johnson but contributed independently of his employer.
The paper surveys the global landscape and finds that trust in vaccines has eroded for a number of reasons: lack of familiarity of the diseases against which they protect, leading to a focus on the risks of the vaccine rather than those posed by the disease; an increase in the number of vaccines and complicated schedules for receiving them; research such as the now-retracted paper suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism; government policies like the recommendation that the preservative thimerosal be removed from childhood vaccines and the rise of the internet and social media.
The authors suggest that strategies to address concerns about vaccines â€œbe locally tailored.â€ They also call for research not just on the science behind a vaccine, but on whether its introduction is socially or politically feasible. And, interestingly, they say that â€œsystemic monitoring of dynamic and evolving vaccine rumors, concerns and refusals is crucial to guide prompt responses.â€
Meantime, a paper by CDC and other government public-health officials published in Health Affairs looks specifically at the state of vaccine confidence in theU.S. An analysis of data from a previously conducted survey finds that while most of the 376 respondents (parents with kids aged six or younger) said their kids had gotten (or would be) all their recommended vaccines, just 23% of them had no concerns about vaccines.
Topping the list of concerns, with 38%: the pain of getting so many shots at one visit, followed closely by worries about getting too many shots at one visit and during the first two years of life. Some 30% reported concerns about a link with learning disabilities such as autism, and 26% were concerned ingredients were unsafe.
Those worries need to be addressed, researchers write. â€œEven if they are not associated with an intention to refuse some or all vaccines, concerns related to childhood vaccines are valid and need to be treated as such.â€