Dispelling vaccine myths may not increase vaccine uptake

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Correcting vaccination beliefs may not be effective method to encourage immunization rates among skeptics, results of a study published in Vaccine indicates.

“Corrective information may unfortunately cause people with fears about side effects to bring those other concerns to mind and thereby reduce their intention to vaccinate,” said Brendan Nyhan, of Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire, in a university press release.

To investigate whether not debunking the misconception that the seasonal flu vaccine can give patients the flu, the scientists compared the beliefs and intended behaviors of respondents after exposure to one of three randomly assigned conditions:

  1. A control condition that offered no additional information about the flu or the flu vaccine
  2. A danger condition that presented information about the health risks posed by the flu
  3. A correction condition that informed respondents that they cannot contract the flu from the flu shot or live virus nasal spray

Both interventions were adapted from information issued by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than four in 10 respondents endorsed the myth that the flu vaccine can give patients the flu, found the investigators. Providing corrective information reduced the self-reported likelihood of receiving a flu vaccine among those with high levels of concern about vaccine side effects.

The corrective information had no significant impact on intent to vaccinate among respondents who reported low concerns about side effects. Moreover, providing information about the dangers of vaccination had no effect on respondent beliefs about vaccine safety or their self-reported intent to vaccinate.

“We need to learn how to most effectively promote immunization. Directly correcting vaccine myths may not be the most effective approach,” said Nyhan.

Providing corrective information may not sway vaccination skeptics
Providing corrective information may not sway vaccination skeptics

It's flu season, a time when health authorities loudly advise getting a flu shot (even if, yes, this year's shot may be somewhat less effective than in other years). But unfortunately -- as with all things vaccine related -- it's also the season for misinformation, especially among the subset of the U.S. public that is worried about vaccines or that, erroneously, believes them to be somehow dangerous.

In particular, one myth about the flu vaccine -- widely enough held that the FDA and CDC have tried to directly debunk it -- is that you can actually get the flu from getting the shot.

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