Vaccine-hesitant college students who spoke with family or community members who experienced a vaccine-preventable disease, or VPD, softened their opposition to immunizations, according to a study published in Vaccines.
“It is possible to influence people’s attitudes towards vaccines by showing the real-world consequences of not vaccinating,” Brian Poole, PhD, associate professor in the department of microbiology and molecular biology at Brigham Young University, told Infectious Diseases in Children. “Since most people have not experienced the consequences of vaccine-preventable diseases, the minuscule risks of vaccination start to seem larger.”
When vaccine-hesitant students talk to people who have suffered the consequences of VPDs, it makes these consequences more personal to them and “allows better decision-making and more realistic risk evaluation,” Poole said.
WHO recently listed vaccine hesitancy in its top 10 threats to global health. Poole and colleagues wrote that urban areas are particularly vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases, with the CDC warning that the United States may soon lose its measles elimination status because of several urban-centered outbreaks.
Because college students will become future parents, Poole and colleagues sought to conduct their study in this population, focusing on the urban vaccine-hesitant hotspot of Provo, Utah, located in a county ranked sixth in the nation for the total number of kindergartners who were under-vaccinated as measured by nonmedical exemption waivers, according to the study.
The researchers used surveys to assess 425 students’ attitudes about vaccines. Half the students were asked to interview someone who experienced a VPD, whereas the other half served as the control group and interviewed someone with an autoimmune disease, according to the study.
“Vaccine-hesitant students who conducted a VPD interview but received no additional vaccine educational materials were significantly more likely to become pro-vaccine (68%) than students who conducted an autoimmune interview and received no additional educational materials,” the researchers wrote.
They also found that an interviewee’s level of physical suffering from the VPD significantly changed the attitude of the student interviewer.
The researchers considered intensive vaccine education even more effective at improving vaccine attitudes than interviewing individuals who experienced a VPD. This is because all vaccine-hesitant students who enrolled in a biology class (n = 5) that covered the topic of VPDs significantly changed their attitudes toward vaccination regardless of the intervention they were assigned to, according to the study. A stronger shift in attitudes was observed in classes in which VPDs were discussed as opposed to those in which vaccine safety was discussed, Poole and colleagues wrote.
“I was surprised by these findings, since most research shows that people are very entrenched in their vaccine ideas and trying to change them often backfires,” Poole said. “Hopefully, clinicians will be able to use strategies like a heightened focus on the dangers of the diseases prevented by vaccines to increase vaccination rates.” – by Joe Gramigna
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.