The anti-vax movement was identified by the WHO as one of the top 10 global health threats of 2019 (source), and despite what may seem like overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccines are necessary, it remains difficult to convince many anti-vaxxers of the necessity of vaccines. We were curious to hear from others what the most effective methods and arguments are for convincing people to get vaccinated, and put out this request:
More and more people seem to be caught up in the “anti-vax” movement. How can such people be convinced that vaccines work and are crucially important? What argument(s) or approaches are usually effective? Any and all comments welcome.
It’s our hope that we can keep adding to this page and make it a useful resource for people who may have anti-vaxxer friends or family and want them to get vaccinated. Below are the responses we’ve received so far.
Having looked into the question of why so many reject vaccines or question them (the vaccine hesitant), I have come to a few conclusions that facts and statistics do not change minds. The anti-vaxx community tells stories about children damaged by vaccines. These stories are vivid and emotionally compelling, although often exaggerated, false, or unverified. They play on parents' fears that the same thing could happen to their own children. The medical community uses statistics to show that vaccines work and are safe. You can hit parents over their heads with an avalanche of statistics, but emotional stories beat dry statistics every time. If the medical community wants to change parents' minds, they need to start telling stories about children damaged by vaccine-preventable diseases, parents who have lost jobs by taking time off to care for a child with a vaccine-preventable disease, etc. Unconscious implicit biases are at work here. The above is an example of availability bias. There are many more stories circulating on the Internet about vaccine-damaged children than stories about children who were not vaccinated and got sick, so anti-vaxx stories are more mentally available when people talk about vaccines than vaccine success stories, and people tend to believe or be biased toward the first thing they think of. Optimism bias also plays a role. Parents understand that some unvaccinated children may get sick and even die, but they believe this will not happen to their child, thus, any risk from vaccination becomes unacceptable. (When you think about optimism bias, think of gamblers. They know the house always comes out ahead, but they are convinced that the other guy will lose money and they will win.)
Rigorously removing personal and religious exemption from vaccinations as was done in California are one concrete way to change vaccination behaviors. Hard core anti-vaxxers will homeschool to avoid vaccinating, but many of the vaccine hesitant will decide to vaccinate because not to do so complicates their lives. Ideally, when they discover that their child is not harmed by vaccination, they will be less vocal in their opposition and more willing to vaccinate future children. Finally, it may take an epidemic to make people truly appreciate the positive power of vaccination. There is a reason why people in developing countries where vaccine-preventable diseases are common killers will travel long distances and line up for hours to have their children vaccinated. These diseases are real to them in a way they are not to first-world parents.COVID-19 maybe be a turning point. It will be a year or more before there is a widely available vaccine against the coronavirus, but if enough people get seriously ill or die before then, this may eliminate a great deal of vaccine resistance.
In the end, vaccines are victims of their own success. We no longer have epidemics of polio, measles, or whooping cough. We no longer have many babies born with birth defects because their mothers were infected with rubella (German measles) during pregnancy. Sadly, it may take a new viral epidemic to make people understand that vaccines do work and are safe for the overwhelming majority of people.
--Tish Davidson, author of The Vaccine Debate
Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to try and convince an anti-vaxxer otherwise and that is despite the enormous amount of medical evidence we already have.
This is because anti-vaxers create communities, where they share stories and fears.
This deceives them into feeling that they are more informed than the general public.
Being part of such a community helps them identify as a “smarter” person without actually having deep knowledge of vaccinations and validates their worries.
However, these worries are coming from that lack of knowledge in the first place.
People do not realize that studies performed on thousands of people have much more weight than someone’s story.
The first thing we can do is use scientific facts as arguments – the World Health Organizations <https://www.who.int/news-room/facts-in-pictures/detail/immunization> states that 2-3 million of children’s deaths are prevented every year thanks to vaccination and 1.5 million more could be saved if vaccination coverage improves.
To those worried about vaccinations and the risk of autism, we can offer many studies showing that there is no link ( https://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(13)00144-3/pdf?ext=.pdf, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2275444).
There was even a study funded by anti-vaxxers that showed no link whatsoever ( https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/early/2015/09/24/1500968112.full.pdf).
Also, we need to stop the spread of misinformation online and show to the people more stories about how vaccines actually help!
--Dr. Dimitar Marinov, Nchip.org
People can be convinced through a combination of facts and empathy. But first, empathy. Many people who fall into this sort of conspiracy thinking have legitimate worries about the state of the world, and the anti-vax movement is there to mop up their sentiment.
So it's best to acknowledge and empathize with their concern and avoid treating them as an extension of a wayward movement. They won't open up if they think you just want to prove them wrong.
As for facts, it's best to explain the way science works. By explaining:
- The peer-review process - The difference between popular media and scientific journals - That scientific facts are often non-intuitive (which is why science exists).
You can go a long way in inoculating them from misinformation. Once they know the difference between a finding that's passed peer review as opposed to one that was simply mentioned in a press release, they'll have a better understanding of what science is and isn't. Once they realize that an opinion piece in a popular media publication isn't the same as something in a scientific journal, they'll be less prone to believe that science is somehow decided on the latest whim.
--Chris Casarez, ChrisCasarez.com
“A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth” said the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. In my opinion, these words reflect the anti-vaxxer movement quite well. I have heard several anti-vaxxer friends respond to this statement with: “Everyone is entitled to an opinion!”, which I wholeheartedly disagree with. Sometimes you don’t get to have an opinion, especially when science-supported facts speak otherwise.
This is why the first step I found to be somewhat effective in changing people’s minds about vaccinations is to open a safe discussion on the topic. Evidence doesn’t always work in convincing people that you are right and they aren’t - most of the time this is the last thing people actually want to hear from you. You can shove a thousand science articles in an anti-vaxxer’s face, but if they don’t believe in science, what’s the use?
1. Agree with them
You want to be on the same side of the table, since with human beings pressure always creates resistance. Don’t disregard your point of view, rather seek to affirm truths you find in the other person’s opinion.
2. Reframe the problem
Change the point of view you are examining the problem from. That way, the person doesn’t feel the need to defend their stance, since you have changed their “view”.
3. Introduce your solution
Here is where you can use scientific facts to support your claims which accommodate the new problem you have introduced previously. Given the new problem, a different decision may be required - such as a vaccination, for example.
This is a difficult topic and no single solution has been discovered to work for all cases. People are vastly different from one another, so make sure to approach each situation individually.
--Snezhina Piskova, myspeechclass.com
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