Epidemiologist Examines Vaccine Rejection and Hesitancy
The center of a public health debate is whether parents should have their children vaccinated. Tara Smith, Ph.D., Professor of Epidemiology at Kent State University’s College of Public Health, challenges statements made by influential individuals who oppose the widespread use of vaccines, and she calls upon her colleagues in the scientific community to speak out to promote vaccination and counter misinformation.
The article, “Vaccine Rejection and Hesitancy: A Review and Call to Action,” is published by Oxford University Press’s Open Forum Infectious Diseases. In the article, Smith presents clear and scientifically based arguments to explain why anti-vaccination statements are inaccurate, misleading, and even disingenuous. As a recognized expert in microbiology of infectious disease, her concern is that the public can become confused about the safety of vaccines and may be hesitant to immunize themselves and their children.
Widespread refusal of vaccines could lead to many more people becoming infected with vaccinepreventable diseases, such as measles, mumps, and influenza.
“Though there is scant evidence that refusal is genuinely increasing in the population, multiple studies have demonstrated concerning patterns of decline of confidence in vaccines, the medical professionals who administer vaccines, and the scientists who study and develop vaccines,” Smith wrote.
In the era of “fake news,” it is often difficult for the general public to know what information is trustworthy and scientifically accurate. Smith suggests medical professionals and scientists with training in infectious diseases have a responsibility to speak out and counter false narratives that may be circulating, particularly those spread via social media.
Her article presents reliable information about vaccine safety while debunking myths that are being circulated and creating misunderstandings among the general public. The article also presents ways that healthcare and infectious disease professionals can actively promote vaccination to friends, family and the people they serve. This information is presented in a way that is sensitive to scientifically trained professionals’ reluctance to advocate on issues in black-and-white terms while also recognizing what is at stake if they do not take action.
With other colleagues at Kent State, Dr. Smith is currently designing a “vaccine ambassador” program to assist parents with their search for accurate information on vaccination.