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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Rutgers: Professor Examines How to Productively Talk to People About Vaccines

Convincing people to vaccinate their children requires engaging with them about their values, according to a recent report co-authored by Rutgers School of Public Health associate professor, Dr. Michael K. Gusmano.  The report examines how people talk about vaccines and how the topic can be approached to have a greater public health impact.

Getting the facts right is not the most important part of the debate. When confronted with evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective, opponents find a way to raise doubts. They present their own facts, demand unrealistic evidentiary standards—rock-solid proof of 100 percent safety—and question the integrity of those producing the evidence.

Some of the better-recognized reasons for this phenomenon are rooted in human psychology. There is an enormous literature on the various cognitive biases that cause people to see and understand the world in ways that may not square with the facts. It’s that what they feel strongly about—their values—helps guide them as they navigate the world.

To have a better debate, we need to change how we communicate with the people we’re trying to persuade. The approach we should take will likely vary depending on the relationship and the audience. Instead of treating people as criminals, fools, or misfits, how about listening to their concerns, practicing a little modesty, and recognizing that everyone loves their children? In all contexts we should find ways to express and elicit underlying values.