In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread. And among those diseases could be COVID-19.
The end of the COVID-19 pandemic will depend on our ability to address vaccine hesitancy, one of the top 10 threats to global health, before a vaccine is put on the market. Meeting the Challenge of Vaccination Hesitancy, a report published in June 2020 by the Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group, lays out actionable steps that leaders across healthcare, research, philanthropy and technology can take to build confidence in vaccines and vaccinations.
Three ‘Big Ideas’ proposed in the report address the primary barriers to vaccine acceptance, provide a framework for progress, and sound a call to action. They are:The report includes several commissioned papers.
This report from the 2019 meeting of the Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group highlights that although vaccination remains a well-accepted social norm worldwide, a combination of factors—including the spread of misinformation on social media; decreased trust in institutions including government, science and industry; and weaknesses within health systems—has diminished confidence among some populations.
- A new media collaborative to serve as an interface between the vaccination community and social media platforms
- A research agenda to create ample evidence-based knowledge about the sources of vaccine hesitancy and the best ways to counter it
- A new narrative to shift the conversation around immunization to one that focuses on achievements and promise and helps build resiliency in the vaccine enterprise
From "The Complex Contagion of Doubt in the Anti-Vaccine Movement," by Damon Centola. Anti-vaxxers use the strategy of FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
Foes of the vaccination enterprise generate fear by claiming that vaccines don’t work as well as they are portrayed, contain harmful ingredients, or trigger pathologic processes leading to long-term physical and mental health problems, such as asthma, diabetes, and autism spectrum disorders. Some even claim that vaccines have been intentionally laced with ingredients that cause cancer or infertility. Anti-vaccine communications inevitably include testimony from people whose children have diseases or conditions allegedly brought on by vaccination. Since these maladies infrequently occur during a child’s development, such assertions can trigger doubt about the safety of vaccines, leading to inaction or resistance.
Proponents of vaccination have generally been unable to resort to the same tactics whenFrom "Online Misinformation about Vaccines," by Renée DiResta and Claire Wardle
describing the risks of vaccine-preventable illness because vaccinations’ very success has greatly diminished outbreaks of disease that would otherwise have provided fodder for powerful messages. Thus, the emotional battlefield is asymmetric—on the one hand, naive parents see serious infirmities that loud voices attribute to vaccines, while on the other, they hear gentle admonitions to continue a procedure whose benefits may be nearly invisible. Public health scientists have demonstrated little expertise in creating stories that generate emotion and engage popular attention, and vaccine foes have manipulated internet search engines to steer people toward false information—in the United States and Europe, as well as in Pakistan, the Philippines, Brazil, Egypt, India, and Nigeria (DiResta & Wardle, this volume).
A popular platform for hosting anti-vaccine videos, YouTube offers a distribution mechanism of its own via a recommendation engine that suggests new videos to users. Many antivaccine organizers and influencers maintain their own YouTube channels. Following the release of Vaxxed, the movie’s production team traveled the country in a bus, recording “vaccine injury” anecdotes from parents. The videos, which were often live-streamed to other apps such as Periscope, were designed for maximum emotional resonance. Many include severely autistic, nonverbal children and feature a parent warning others not to make the same mistake they allegedly did.
Many other channels are conspiratorial in nature, purporting to expose the cover-up of a
link between vaccines and autism. In one 2018 study, academics analyzed 560 YouTube
videos “related to the link between vaccines and autism or other serious side effects on
children” (Donzelli et al., 2018). They found that most of the anti-vaccine videos (392 of the 560) focused on supporting this misinformation and that the number of anti-vaccine videos posted to YouTube was increasing every year