npr: Back in the 1960s, the U.S. started vaccinating kids for…


Back in the 1960s, the U.S. started vaccinating kids for measles. As expected, children stopped getting measles.

But something else happened.

Childhood deaths from all infectious diseases plummeted. Even deaths from diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea were cut by half.

“So it’s really been a mystery — why do children stop dying at such high rates from all these different infections following introduction of the measles vaccine,” says Michael Mina, a postdoc in biology at Princeton University and a medical student at Emory University.

Scientists Crack A 50-Year-Old Mystery About The Measles Vaccine

Photo credit: Photofusion/UIG via Getty Images

This is why shaming people for being anti-vaccination (or even making vaccination compulsory beyond a certain degree of coercion) is a bad idea. People have their own reasons for choosing not to vaccinate. And yeah, they’re mostly bad reasons, but risk assessment is hard, and people are error-prone when it comes to certain types of risk assessment, so it happens.

But if you push them, you provoke a reaction (it might even be usefully analogized to an immune response, come to think of it). You make them raise barriers. You make it so their belief that they should not vaccinate their kids goes from being just a case of being error-prone and under-informed and getting this tricky case of risk-assessment wrong, to making it so their membership in the persecuted class of antivaxxers has become an aspect of their identity.

And then we’re screwed. Because when new evidence (like this) comes along that makes the case for vaccination even more compelling, such that even garden-variety poor-risk-assessors might be swayed to get the decision right, the members of the self-identified antivaxxer class won’t be persuaded, because identity protection gets in the way.

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Tags: cultural cognition, vaccination.

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