Vaccines are safe. They are highly effective. They are supported by every major American medical society and government agency and are a routine part of pediatric care. But if vaccines are safe and effective, why aren’t all children vaccinated?
Despite conclusive evidence that vaccinations are safe and protect against dangerous diseases, small groups of people in the U.S. and around the world choose to forgo some or all vaccines for themselves and their children, putting their children, families and communities at risk.
The most common reasons parents remain vaccine hesitant are concerns and uncertainty about the safety of vaccines. Some still accept the mistaken and disproven belief that the composition of vaccines is linked to autism or other learning difficulties. Some question the necessity of immunizations, or worry about the potential discomfort or side-effects of the shots. Others mistakenly believe the diseases prevented by vaccines are not serious or are easily treatable, when in truth, they can be deadly. Some claim their religion prohibits vaccination, although no major religious group advocates against vaccinations on the basis of official doctrine.
This trend towards vaccine hesitancy and refusal has grown globally in recent years as misinformation about the safety of vaccines and the severity of VPDs shared by members of the anti-vaccination movement on the internet and social media have sown seeds of doubt in parents around the globe. These platforms allow a small group of people who hold extreme beliefs to appear more mainstream or even in the majority. The highly emotional, anecdotal content they share is very effective on social networks, often more so than the simple facts about vaccinations.
There are now hundreds of anti-vaccine websites, each amplified by social media, causing some to call the spread of extreme views a “cultural epidemic.” The cumulative effect of the controversy and confusion generated can make it difficult for parents to understand the facts and to make well-informed decisions for their children.
More must be done to support immunization and halt the spread of serious—and potentially deadly—vaccine preventable diseases. To ensure that parents are equipped with the facts, health care providers, educators, children’s groups, policymakers and faith leaders must be vocal advocates for vaccinations. To learn more, check out CDF’s new report on vaccines and children’s health. To access our guide for parents about vaccines, click here.