Thoughts on Vaccine Refusal
We are currently in the midst of a public health crisis due to the coronavirus. What will pull us out of this mess? An effective and safe vaccine. However, for vaccination to be effective, it needs to be accepted by a large majority of the population. Will people refuse the new coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available? Some experts predict that a substantial number of persons will refuse the vaccine. Since Edward Jenner’s vaccine against smallpox, there has been a vaccine resistance movement. Then, there were fears that a vaccine derived from bovine sources would convey bovine characteristics to recipients. Why do parents sometimes refuse to vaccinate their children and themselves?
The value of the personal story over population data:
How many times have I heard, “We do not get the flu vaccine because one year we got it and then got the flu.” The personal story seems to support a false cause-and-effect association – getting the vaccine might actually cause the disease it is meant to prevent. Population data prove that this is not true. Getting the flu vaccine reduces but does not eliminate personal risk of contracting influenza. Other vaccines have had dramatic effectiveness in suppressing disease.
Distrust of big pharmaceutical corporations:
Many are distrustful of large corporations and the premise that they would produce a product for anything more than profit. Vaccine development is a costly endeavor. There is a defined stepwise process of certifying that a vaccine is safe and effective. Yes, there is some profit in vaccine manufacture, but it is minor compared to the profit available from blockbuster drugs. Only large pharmaceutical corporations have the infrastructure needed to produce vaccines in large quantity.
Convincing sources of inaccurate information:
There are information sources that appear trustworthy but really are not. The credentialing process to become a doctor on social media or the internet is nonexistent. In the age of conspiracy theories, we need to be selective about the information sources that we consume. Reliable sources for information on vaccines include : immunize.org and http://www.vaccine.chop.edu/
All parents want what they see as best for their children:
No parent would opt to harm their children. No parent wants to see their children experience uncomfortable side effects from a chosen treatment, or disability or death from a vaccine-preventable disease. When processing various sources of information, it may be challenging to sort out which information is the most reliable. Logical reasoning may become muddied by emotional reactions to personal narratives or persuasive presentations that may not be fully factual.
Our culture values individual autonomy, certainly for adults. Each individual is allowed to make a personal risk verses benefit assessment regarding vaccination. For children, all states have vaccination requirements for school attendance, often with a provision that vaccines can be refused on a religious basis. There are a multitude of good reasons to choose vaccination; personal protection and protection of others are foremost among them. A large majority of the population needs to be vaccinated or have naturally acquired immunity in order to eliminate disease. When we have access to an approved vaccine for Coronavirus please get it. The life you protect may not be your own.(1)
- Apologies to Flannery O’Connor
Stephen Mange, M.D.
Stephen Mange is a pediatrician, recently retired after over 35 years at the Davidson Clinic. He and his wife, Pamela, are the parents of three grown daughters and two granddaughters.