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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Half full, half empty.

Some of you may have heard about the recent Rasmussen report regarding vaccines. No, this is not a report from a scientific organization indicating that vaccines are or are not unsafe. Rather, this is a report from a polling firm about how Americans feel about vaccines, and such feelings have nothing to do with the actual safety or efficacy of the treatment.* It does, however, speak to the likelihood that people will adopt vaccines and, by extension, the safety of herd immunity. So what's the story? Well, the punch line I've seen getting press so far, is the bad news:

Vaccinations are common requirements for children all over the country in order to attend public school and college. However, half of American adults (52%) say they are concerned about the safety of vaccinations for children, including 27% who are Very Concerned.

...

Nearly one-out-of-three adults with children under 18 (32%) is Very Concerned about vaccine safety.


Yowsa! At first glance, this looks like a Big Deal. Over half of American adults are concerned about vaccine safety and about a third who have minor children are Very Concerned. Clearly, this shows a dramatic loss of faith in the vaccination program. Obviously, the sky is about to fall, civilization is going to collapse, dogs and cats will be living together- mass hysteria! Yeah, not so much and, as a sociologist, I'm not surprised. You see, there's a bit of a difference between questions about attitudes and questions about behaviors:

Still, 92% of those with children under 18 say their child has received all the vaccinations he or she is supposed to have.

...

While they are concerned about the safety of the vaccines themselves, adults are more worried about the consequences of not vaccinating children. Seventy-six percent (76%) say they are concerned that unvaccinated children will cause health problems for other children.


So, things aren't as bad as they might seem at first. Sure, people are asking questions about vaccines- due in no small part to the sort of crazy nonsense that is polluting bookshelves lately- but the fact is that most people still trust vaccines more than the nonsense, and most people are still getting them. That's good news. Obviously, effort needs to be made to reassure parents and the public in general that they're doing the right thing by sticking with vaccines but, by and large, this report is more good news than bad.


* Wisdom of the crowds devotes might respond that if a lot of people question vaccines then it's likely that vaccines should be questioned. Sadly, Heiko Rauhut is doing some interesting work that suggests that crowds are only "wise" under a limited subset of conditions, and are utter morons otherwise.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Marf said...

I'm a pessimist, yet I still say the glass of water is entirely full. Half of water and half of air. Even in a vacuum, the water would be boiling and water vapor would fill the other half of the glass... for a little while anyway.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 9:51:00 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

Fun public service announcement by Penn and Teller:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfdZTZQvuCo

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

Via Paul Kedrosky on Twitter:

http://www.iayork.com/MysteryRays/2010/08/26/how-quickly-we-forget-the-ravages-of-disease/

Thursday, August 26, 2010 9:23:00 AM  

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