The re-introduction of measles, mumps and other previously eradicated diseases to the United States is nothing short of a public health crisis. Since Jan. 1, a staggering 880 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 24 states — the greatest number of cases since 1994. Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000.
The outbreaks have been attributed to an increasing number of Americans who choose not to vaccinate themselves or their children. Overcoming this “vaccine hesitancy” is a major concern for government and health agencies, which have tried a variety of approaches to convince anti-vaxers to change their minds, including mandating vaccinations in some communities.
New research from BYU professors Brian Poole, Jamie Jensen and their students finds there is a better way to help increase support for vaccinations: Expose people to the pain and suffering caused by vaccine-preventable diseases instead of trying to combat people with vaccine facts.
“Vaccines are victims of their own success,” said Poole, associate professor of microbiology and molecular biology. “They’re so effective that most people have no experience with vaccine preventable diseases. We need to reacquaint people with the dangers of those diseases.”
Poole and his team designed an intervention for college students in Provo — a city which ranks sixth nationally for under-vaccinated kindergartners — with the hope to improve vaccine attitudes and uptake among future parents. The experiment was carried out with 574 students, with 491 being pro-vaccine and 83 being vaccine hesitant, according to a pre-study survey.
For the study, half the students were asked to interview someone who experienced a vaccine-preventable disease such as polio, while the other half (serving as the control group) interviewed someone with an auto-immune disease. Meanwhile some students were also enrolled in courses that contained intense immune and vaccine-related curriculum while others were enrolled in a course with no vaccine curriculum.
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