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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 20-Aug-10


Friday 20-August-10

Persuading parents

Imagine you are a government agency trying to persuade people to adopt a particular healthcare approach, how should you do it? Studies have shown that many are suspicious of government communications and are more likely to believe in alternative sources.

A case in point is some poor UK research that linked MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) injections for children to autism. It caused a huge decline in parents taking up the treatment and, even though it eventually led to the dismissal of the doctor involved, the caution continued with only 85% take-up.

In a study of parent attitudes, Benjamin Gardner and colleagues, five key points were identified:

1. Parents didn't have enough information, especially about the hazards of not vaccinating.

2. Government sources were not trusted.

3. Other parents were trusted.

4. There was a bias towards risk-related information.

5. Pro- and anti-MMR arguments were given equal weighting (even though scientific evidence massively confirms the value of MMR vaccination).

These point to ways such government campaigns can be improved, such as with parent-fronted apparently independent presentations that present data needed and counter biases. It also shows the power of research-based promotion as opposed to using traditional wisdoms.

Gardner, B., Davies, A., McAteer, J., and Michie, S. (2010). Beliefs underlying UK parents' views towards MMR promotion interventions: a qualitative study. Psychology, Health and Medicine, 15 (2), 220-30

Your comments

A huge area of distrust is that the 'studies' carried out to prove the 'safety' and efficacy of these vaccines is too often funded by the drug companies themselves. It is so easy to misrepresent facts and figures without 'lying' that research can be made to appear something it is not.

If you read about the Andrew Wakefield incident, he claims he never said MMR caused autism, simply that there appeared to be a link to children with certain conditions developing autism after MMR shots. Those who interpreted the information made it into a definitive statement.

Making a direct connection between vaccinations and negative reactions is difficult because it depends a lot on testimony from parents which are largely ignored by the medical profession. The medical profession has strong bias towards believing the pharmaceutical companies and directives that are handed down to them.

"Pro- and anti-MMR arguments were given equal weighting (even though scientific evidence massively confirms the value of MMR vaccination)."

Scientific evidence can be subjective. Just because it is called scientific does not make it impartial. If they tell us a study proved XYZ, how can it be taken seriously when the test group was only a handful of children who were only followed for a very short time?

I believe that there should be scientific trials, but I absolutely do not believe that we as parents should be expected to entrust the health of our children to those with a vested interest.

-- Yolanda S

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