New Study Suggests Behavior, Not Education, Will Change Attitudes About Vaccines

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We all know by now how crucial childhood vaccines are, to kids and the public health at large. Still, even with all of the evidence we have that they’re necessary and safe, many parents refuse to vaccinate their kids. Recent upticks in rates of unvaccinated kids have been linked to outbreaks of measles, mumps, and whopping cough. To combat this, state health departments have launched several education campaigns, to try and turn the tide of public opinion when it comes to vaccines. However, a new study suggests that behavior can change attitudes about vaccines more effectively than more education.

The study says that behavior can change attitudes about vaccines better than education.

A new study published in the Psychological Science in the Public Interest says that most parents avoid vaccines not because of lack of knowledge, but because of perceived inconveniences or obstacles. In other words, they know enough about vaccines. Which is why educational campaigns are ineffective at increasing vaccination rates. You can’t use facts to persuade thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

It’s incredibly optimistic to think that telling someone a fact is enough to make them believe that fact. It doesn’t work for weight loss, or managing behavior in children. And it doesn’t work for parents who truly believe they don’t need to vaccinate their kids.

Researchers say that indirect behavior modification is far more effective at changing attitudes about vaccines. These modifications may include automatically scheduled vaccine appointments, reminders from doctors offices, and even monetary incentives given by employers. In one experiment cited in the study, a company asked their employees to name the date they would get the flu shot. They saw a 1.5% increase in vaccinations. Even more interesting, when they asked for a date AND a time, the rate went up 4%.

The study also found that the more time doctors talk about vaccines with parents, the more suspicious and worried parents got. But if a doctor said, for example, “OK, well little Billy is due for his 4 months vaccines and we’ll take care of that at the end of this visit”, vaccine rates increased as well, by 5%.

As much as we want to, we can’t change people’s minds by browbeating them with science and fact. Parents should absolutely ask questions, and have them answered with respect and compassion. But by making vaccines a routine, everyday part of life, we can change the behaviors that guide the attitudes about them.

(Image: iStock/Antonio_Diaz)