According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 90 percent of American children entering kindergarten are immunized with most recommended vaccines. However, some parents either refuse to inoculate their children entirely or delay the CDC’s recommended schedule for injections.
Maggie Pool is an Assistant Director for Clinical Services at Goddard Health Center on the University of Oklahoma campus. Over her 15 years working in the field, she has heard a lot of patients’ concerns associated with vaccines.
“I think the most prevalent myth or rumor because it has never been proven is that the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccines causes Autism,” Pool says.
While fear of the effects of immunizations might dominate media coverage, Pool says that many people who avoid vaccines are actually afraid of the physical experience of receiving one.
“Some of them are more afraid of not really of vaccine itself, but the fear of getting an injection,” Pool says. “So, for some could be the thought, sight of blood, pain and for some might or are scared of getting the vaccine itself – foreign substances injected in their body.”
People who are afraid of needles might prefer a nasal spray vaccines for diseases like the flu. These sprays contain a living but very weak strain of the disease.
“It is actually possible with the live flu vaccines where you do get the very mild form of the illness,” Pool says. “With the shot, which is inactivated, a dead virus, you will not get the flu.”
The number of children who have died from or were disabled by an infectious disease slowed to a trickle as vaccination became more common, but it still happens. According to the CDC, of the 105 influenza associated pediatric deaths in 2012-2013, 90 percent of them had not been vaccinated.
One reason parents are hesitant about vaccinations might be counterintuitive. Because vaccines have been so successful, Pool says Americans have forgotten how horrible these diseases can be, especially those which have been almost completely eradicated in the US. She warns that while these diseases are rare they do sometimes appear, are highly contagious and sometimes life threatening. Without preventative measures like vaccines these diseases could make a comeback.
“We don’t see a lot of measles, mumps and rubella,” Pool says. “We are not seeing what death it could cause so it’s kind hard to remember what is was like to have one of those diseases so prevalent to our society.”
“We are having the highest pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak in 50 years,” Pool says. “Some say the reason why we are having that is because we have now better diagnostic tests and we now know that the people are having it...but, some say it could be direct result from people not getting immunized.”
Miroslav Pendaroski, a professor of psychology at MIT University in Macedonia, explains why he thinks the fear of vaccines exists and will likely continue to exist, regardless of media coverage or research findings.
“Fear is one of the four basic emotions that people have,” Pendaroski says. “It is phylogenetically and ontogenetically inherent to the human. It’s part of the human nature. Fear is one of the deepest emotions and is always connected with the personally hazardous moments in one human life. The phobia of vaccines can be caused from a negative and traumatic experience especially when it comes to a personal health. Risks are scarier when we don't have a sense of control.”
Pendaroski says people tend to favor information that confirms their own personal, pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses about something. With the information so readily available online today, it’s not hard to conduct some quick research and find a community of people who agree with you, no matter what the subject or your opinion on it.
“It is entirely understandable that any parent of an autistic child wants answers, and hope, and a sense of control, over the fate they've been cruelly dealt,” Pendaroski says. “But today’s society gives so many different kinds of vaccines that were not verified in a safe manner. That makes people suspicious and not so comfortable when comes to this issue. Media informs so many contradictive views that makes people confused and wonder even more.”