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We will never completely eliminate the fear of vaccines



These are the last episodes of a much too long series. There is currently a dirty outbreak of measles in the Portland area and a public health emergency has been declared. Another concerns Brooklyn and spreads in the Hudson Valley, north of New York. Another started in Atlanta. In 2018, seventeen epidemics (defined by the presence of at least three cases) were registered in the United States. The situation is even worse in Europe: 41,000 cases were recorded during the first six months of 2018, with at least thirty-seven deaths.

And just as predictably it is the frustration with these epidemics and the enormous costs they impose on communities that grow, because none of this would have happened if more children had been vaccinated. Article after article, we are indignant about the problem by explaining the safety of vaccination against measles and what collective immunity means. Calls to reason conspiracy "Irrationality", the "Denial of science" and the "Madness" HIV vaccines. At first sight they seem logical, but in their own way these calls are as unreasonable as denying the evidence of this eternal return, namely that the problem goes beyond reason and the factual.

Priority values

What can this cycle break or at least help reduce the frequency? A remarkable study – which received far too little attention when it was published in Nature Human Behavior at the end of 2017 – offers encouraging perspectives. It touches the core of the problem, the emotions and the psychology of why enlightened and fully informed people may encounter the same facts – here, the vaccination of children – a radically different point of view. As with so many other problems, our perceptions are not the product of the facts alone, but rather have to do with how we understand them.

In the study, Avnika Amin and Saad Omer from Emory University (and their peers) identify some of the basic motives behind:

  1. hesitation about vaccines, which they define as parents' expression of concerns about the immunization schedule of their children (a fact that 75% of pediatricians claim to have met);
  2. a total refusal of vaccines, a phenomenon that is fortunately less widespread and with a limited tendency towards communities where individuals share common beliefs (in the United States, the overall vaccination coverage of children remains high).

To discover the roots of these convictions and hesitations, Amin and Omer went further than most of the work on the vaccines against fear of children. Their study is based on the theory of moral foundations, the various basic codes with which we determine good and evil and that shape what we consider good behavior and the proper functioning of society. These are the fundamental perspectives with which we see the world, the actions of others and the problems of daily life. They vary from person to person. Some focus more on caring for others and the damage that can not be done (for example: worrying about the fate of the poor and migrants, being indignant about the treatment of immigrants). Others focus on justice and honesty (being provoked by the corruption of politicians).

Still others emphasize loyalty and are shocked by betrayal (such as those conservatives who reject climate change, those who resist nuclear power, those who banish traitors). Some emphasize respect for authority (eg the so-called patriotism of people indignant by NFL players who had kneeled during the American anthem). Others emphasize purity and cleanliness and are afraid of pollution (for example, people revolted by pollution). And some people place the highest priority on individual freedom and are outrageous when it is ignored (for example, argues for the right to carry a gun, the rage of the Occupy Wall Street movement against the rich who would control everything).

We share many of these values, but some motivate us more than others. A priority that depends on many aspects of our personality, as well as our age, gender and other existential factors – in addition to the subject in question.

Find suitable arguments

According to Amin and Omer, the theory of moral principles explains the hesitation about vaccines. In one of their experiments they compare three groups of parents: those who care nothing about it (73% of the 1,007 people questioned), those who do it a little bit (11%) and those who do not care about it at all. "Strongly hesitating" (16%). They note that parents who express a moderate hesitation towards vaccines are twice as motivated by the value purity / degradation as serene parents. And they find that parents who are very hesitant about vaccines are twice as motivated by both purity / degradation and freedom / oppression as the least hesitant group.

More importantly, none of the parents involved, whether in the moderate or strongly hesitant group, is motivated by the value of protection / nuisance. Although this is the moral argument used to arouse parents' sense of civility – that their unvaccinated child might make another child ill. Reluctant parents of vaccines are not motivated by this benevolence, at least not about this subject.

What the research of Amin and Omer shows is that the reluctance for vaccines is deeply connected to emotions

Let's just say it. Parents who are reluctant to vaccinate their children often say their fear of stopping something strange in the bodies of their children, so young and so pure. They also say that they do not want something that is not natural in the bodies of their children. They are afraid that vaccines contain it "Poison"from "Toxin" and "Pollutants"such as thimerosal. Let the semantic expression of the moral value be purity / degradation. Words that are also heard among the most deeply hesitant parents and those who formally refuse to vaccinate their children. Except that they also go further: they say they do not like the government or the medical community telling them what to do, which reflects the value of freedom / oppression, and they do not trust in these institutions that they have the security of promise vaccines, which means that they are not motivated by the moral value of respect for authority (at least not about this issue).

The psychology of hesitation about vaccines does not stop with these moral codes. In general, we are more concerned about the risks of children than of adults. Because of the risk & # 39; s topics of alarming articles in the press or the attention of our friends. We are also fundamentally more concerned about the risks that people bring with them for natural hazards (some parents are willing to expose the pure bodies of their children to measles because "it is natural").

But what the research of Amin and Omer shows is that the reluctance towards vaccines is deeply connected to emotions. Emotions that are decisive for the decisions we make, which indicates that more information will not change people. Their study also tells us more than we ever knew about the real concerns of parents who vaccinate their children backwards, which is a sign of hope. We will never completely eliminate the fear of vaccines that accompany us since the arrival of vaccines.

It is true that some of these resistances are so deeply rooted that only the compulsive path – the obligation to vaccinate as a condition for access to the public school – could change things. Except that the path of persuasion is not blocked. If we can find the case for vaccination that matches the moral values ​​that motivate parents to be reluctant to vaccinate their children, we will be more convinced to move from restraint to acceptance. This could reduce the frequency and severity of these outbreaks, with a vaccination rate closer to group immunity. To do a lot of good for the children and the communities involved.


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