Pro-Vaccine PSAs Don't Work, And Actually Backfire

The science behind vaccination, widely regarded as one of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine, should be enough to convince parents to vaccinate their children — right? Well, no. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics concludes that efforts to educate parents about the effectiveness of vaccines doesn't seem to work. Not only that, but parents who see and hear about the benefits of vaccinations are actually less likely to vaccinate their children afterwards, the study found.

Huh? Well, to reach their conclusion, researchers asked parents about their views on vaccination. Then, each parent was exposed to one of four pro-vaccine messages, which debunked the myth that vaccines can cause autism, measles, mumps and rubella. Plus, three of the four messages were based on how the Center for Disease Control and Prevention presents its messaging about vaccines. (The CDC spends up to a whopping $12 million per year on vaccination messaging.)

The results paint an alarming picture: not one message was successful among the 1,759 parents surveyed. Actually, they backfired, reducing the likelihood of parents vaccinating their children and, at times, increasing the complete myth that vaccines cause autism. Scary.

So how is this happening? Dartmouth College political scientist and medic critic Brendan Nyhan, who conducted the study with three colleagues, told Mother Jones that if parents see or hear about sick children , it’s much easier to “imagine other kinds of health risks to children, including possible side effects of vaccines that are actually quite rare.” In short, if you see images a sick child, parents tend to think about the possibility that a vaccination will make their kid ill, rather than keep them healthy.

Worryingly, vaccination rates among American adults are down, too. Some analysts have suggested that Americans are quickly growing less confident in the department of public health, preferring to rely on their doctor keeping them informed.

As Bustle reported:

According to a new report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although more young women have started getting their HPV shots, loads of American adults are skipping getting their vaccinations, for everything from hepatitis to the flu. Every year, 30,000 people in the US die of vaccine-preventable diseases, and the majority of them are adults; right now, adult vaccination rates in the U.S. are “unacceptably low."