It is the anti-vaccine pseudo-science websites and blogs which convince the moms that there is more danger in their child getting a vaccine than not.
The solution may not be to provide “correct information” on *safety* — often dismissed by the reader out of hand — but to provide “correct information” on the dangers of *not* getting vaccinated. That’s the missing piece. And that information can’t be presented once or twice. It can’t just be ponied out at the beginning of flu season. CDC has to go toe-to-toe with the 24/7/365 information cycle of the anti-vaccine websites and bloggers. They are relentless. The contrary message would have to be just as round-the-clock and relentless to have a hope of success.
The solution would, then, be to provide the public with outcome information, rather than statements about dry counter-studies filled with data, data which readers often suspect has been manipulated to serve someone else’s ends.
In the world of new media, whats lacking are the *stories* of adverse outcomes. Most moms, most pregnant women, have absolutely no idea *why* they should be vaccinated on a personal level. And I do mean not from a public health standpoint (which is often the stance that CDC takes) but from an individual perspective. The anti-vaccine websites and bloggers focus on the individual, not on some dry construct like “public health.” They talk about that mom’s kid, specifically. They seem to care.
When reading CDC statements, many moms find them to be self-serving of the interests of the CDC and other monolithic (and often, to them, suspect) entities. When CDC lists negative possible outcomes for their unvaccinated children, it’s often stated in dry, succinct, language. These statements are all too easy to disregard.
In contrast, the anti-vaccine propagandists use the new media very well indeed. They spell out, in technicolor language, all the horrors of vaccination as they see them. They provide a complex and convincing argument for vaccinations benefitting not some mom’s child, but “big pharma” and other powerful shadowy entities.
This “information” is repeated endlessly in various flavors. There is always something new to come back and “learn” on these websites.
In the mind of the mom, soon there’s no contest.
If CDC wants to promote the benefits of vaccination, they will need to promote the reality of some very negative outcomes that can happen to the unvaccinated. But they need to be serious about it, and do it in the style of the best new media practitioners. If they do that, then there’s a counter-artument, and the mom or the pregnant woman will have to take some time to actually weigh the vision of one negative outcome against another. At least, in that light, vaccination might stand a chance.
Will popping up in September with a photo and story of one unvaccinated kid on an ECMO machine work if CDC tries such a halfway measure? Of course not. They’ll be throwing rocks at a mountain, and their timing and motives will seem highly suspicious.
Now, CDC will say that privacy laws prevent the telling of these stories. Balderdash. Every day we see stories in local media in which the relatives of unvaccinated and critically ill or dead flu patients say that they’ll do anything it takes to let others know that they need to get vaccinated. And they often state that they’re sorry that they believed the anti-vaccine propaganda.
Each and every time a family is faced with their child barely surviving weeks on a heart/lung machine (and damaged for life) or worse, the death of their child from something “ordinary” like influenza, they say: “We just didn’t know what could happen. We never imagined it. We never knew. We had no idea.”
So if CDC wants to fight an information war, they have to fight it with the kind of information that their opponent has been using to win it. NONE of my co-op class students apart from my own was vaccinated against flu this year. ALL of their families “believe in” the dangers of vaccines. NONE of them know anything at all about the kinds of adverse and tragic outcomes that can come from remaining unvaccinated. NONE of the modern moms I know have any idea at all what it was like for families, for kids, before the era of childhood vaccines.
That’s an abject failure of communications on the part of the CDC. CDC doesn’t need a multi-million dollar communications center and budget. It needs a few good bloggers and a website or two that can tell a STORY.
As long as CDC acts like the bureaucracy it is, as long as it does not step up and provide a counter-story, the other, more dramatic, stories and claims (no matter how bogus) will win, vaccination rates will continue to remain low, and more kids and pregnant women will die. The tragedy is that they will die not ever knowing anything about the real danger they were entertaining by making the choice to remain unvaccinated.
If they had been able to compare the true dangers, they may have made another choice.
Moms don’t want to hear about “societal costs” or economics. They don’t want to hear about “pubic health.” They want to protect their kids from danger. Until you appeal to that hard-wired sentiment, forgetaboutit.