Talking Sense Into Anti-Vaxxers

Chris Mooney reports on a new study that suggests it may be impossible:

The paper tested the effectiveness of four separate pro-vaccine messages, three of which were based very closely on how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) itself talks about vaccines. The results can only be called grim: Not a single one of the messages was successful when it came to increasing parents’ professed intent to vaccinate their children. And in several cases the messages actually backfired, either increasing the ill-founded belief that vaccines cause autism or even, in one case, apparently reducing parents’ intent to vaccinate.

The findings deeply depress Aaron Carroll, who debunked anti-vaccine beliefs in the video seen above:

When they gave evidence that vaccines aren’t linked to autism, that actually made parents who were already skittish about vaccines less likely to get their child one in the future. When they showed images of sick children to parents it increased their belief that vaccines caused autism. When they told a dramatic story about an infant in danger because he wasn’t immunized, it increased parents’ beliefs that vaccines had serious side effects.

Basically, it was all depressing. Nothing was effective.

Marcotte asks how to combat the anti-vaccine trend if appeals to reason don’t work:

Mooney suggests that state governments should respond by making it harder to opt out of vaccinations. That would be helpful, but there’s also some preliminary research from the James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking Inc. that shows that reframing the argument in positive terms can help. When parents were prompted to think of vaccination as one of the steps you take to protect a child, like buckling a seat belt, they were more invested in doing it than if they were reminded that vaccine denialists are spouting misinformation. Hopefully, future research into pro-vaccination messaging, as opposed to just anti-anti-vaccination messaging, will provide further insight.