Vaccine Supporters, Get Out Your Megaphones
Mar 29, 2012

Last week, Dr. David Katz, the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, wrote an article for the Huffington Post.  He explained his concern about the future of public health, stating that if we continue a trend towards rising rates of preventable diseases, coupled with declining rates of vaccination, that we may be taking a step backwards in the future.
One of my favorite quotes from this article pertained to Dr. Katz’s comments on the prevalence of vaccine misinformation in which he states,

“But in the internet age, crazy, paranoid nonsense and hard-earned, thoughtful, evidence-based expertise have the same megaphone.”

I particularly love his use of the word megaphone.  But I disagree with his statement.
Yes, crazy, paranoid nonsense is often amplified online, much like being broadcast with a megaphone.  However, in my opinion, the hard-earned, thoughtful, evidence-based expertise is barely audible in comparison.  Sure, Dr. Katz is doing his part by contributing to the Huffington Post, but I believe that many more megaphones are needed  if we are to adequately address certain public health challenges such as a possible decline in vaccination rates.
The way I see it, the majority of people who support vaccination (illustrated by the fact that they are themselves vaccinated) aren’t engaged in the conversation.  Sure they recognize the dangers of disease.  They even understand the benefits of vaccines.  That is why they comply with the recommendations of their doctors and other experts.  But that is often where there their engagement ends.  It’s not a selfish thing; it’s just that they don’t feel the need to be involved in the discussion.  I believe there are many people who don’t even realize that vaccine hesitancy exists.  Which helps explains why people don’t really understand the threat that vaccine hesitancy has on our public health.  It’s not that they don’t want to help.  It’s just that they don’t see the need.
Yet, if you visit a parenting chat group these days you’ll find that there are plenty of parents who come to these forums seeking information about vaccines.  Just as they have questions about breastfeeding, developmental milestones and discipline techniques, these parents often rely on the “expertise” of other parents who’ve “been there”.
While there are certainly plenty of parents who are well-informed and educated regarding vaccines, the ones who tend to be the most prominent in these forums are the ones shouting through the megaphones.  Sadly, their messages are often a combination of anecdotal stories that inject fear, or links to poor sources that serve to improperly validate a parent’s concerns.  Then, when parents do a Google search on vaccines the top hits are most often those responsible for the majority of the misinformation.
Even though there are plenty of accurate and informative websites, such as the CDC’s vaccine pages, Every Child By Two’s Vaccinate Your Baby site, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center and various public health sites, parents will only benefit from this evidence based information if they somehow manage to discover these sites among the sea of misinformation they are bombarded with.
Meanwhile, health care professionals are eagerly awaiting their day in the exam room, when they can address parents’ questions, explain the risks of disease and promote the benefits of vaccination.  But how many parents arrive at these appointments with immunization biases they’ve developed from unreliable sites?  And how many are able to hear what their doctor has to say when they have megaphone voices ringing in their heads?
Certainly nurses, doctors and other health care providers can be very influential in a parent’s decision to vaccinate, but perhaps we need them to be part of a preemptive strike.  If we can facilitate an earlier immunization discussion between parents and experts, would it be possible for the evidence based information to receive equal, if not preferable, consideration?
As health departments in states like VT and CA attempt to increase immunization rates and improve public health efforts, they are also trying to alert politicians to the concerns of declining vaccination rates in our schools due to the increasing use of philosophical exemptions to vaccines.  For instance, the VT House Health Care Committee is hearing testimony this week in response to a proposed bill that would eliminate the use of philosophical exemptions to vaccines.  Similarly, CA has proposed a bill that would retain the use of personal belief exemptions for parents, but would require parents to receive a written statement signed by a health practitioner that verifies that they were provided with information about the benefits and risks of immunizations, as well as the risks of certain vaccine-preventable diseases before allowing the exemption.
Last week, shortly after the CA bill was introduced, Liz Ditz wrote several blog posts that addressed the objectives of the bill, as well as the opposition’s concerns.   She has even compiled a list of other articles that help to detail the pros and cons of the bill to do her best to help people understand all the considerations.
Both the medical community and the public health experts know that an increased number of exemptions can increase the risk of disease for our school children.   However, the politicians also need to hear from concerned parents as well.  Parents who want to ensure that our children are protected from preventable diseases.  But what may be considered prudent and reasonable to most parents, is unfortunately being criticized and opposed by those with big megaphones.  As one concerned physician explains in testimony to be heard in VT,

“I am concerned that the focus is being drawn away from the true issue at hand: does an individual’s philosophical right to refuse vaccines outweigh the health threats to the public at large. This is not a stage for unqualified individuals to rehash outdated concerns about the efficacy and safety of vaccines.”

We intend to keep our readers informed of the progress of these bills, and any others that are introduced in the future.  However, if you live in VT or CA we encourage you to get involved now.  Additionally, if you would like to receive more information about the various ways you can show your support for vaccines, please visit our “Get Involved” page on the Vaccinate Your Baby website and we will be sure to let you know how you can be help support public health and vaccinations all across the country.

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