It is not uncommon to hear about parents having ‘panic attacks’ over the idea of vaccinating their kids.
“…many parents are inundated with horror stories of vaccine dangers, all designed to eat away at them emotionally while the medical and scientific communities have mounted their characteristic response by sharing the facts, the data, and all of the reliable peer-reviewed and well-cited research to show that vaccines are safe and effective.”
Federman on Understanding Vaccines: A Public Imperative
Or simply becoming anxious over an upcoming appointment for routine immunizations or to get caught up on vaccines.
What’s fueling all of this anxiety?
Vaccine Injury Stories That Scare Parents
Some of it is likely from the vaccine injury stories that they read or videos they watch.
As parents get better at spotting the myths and misinformation behind the anti-vaccine movement, we are seeing more and more vaccine injury stories pop up to scare them.
“…recognizes the importance of examples—testimonials and stories—that are the lifeblood of vaccine-hesitant beliefs.”
Nathan Rodriguez on Vaccine-Hesitant Justifications
Vaccine injury stories aren’t new though.
These types of anecdotal stories were very popular when folks used to think that the DPT vaccine was causing a lot of side effects. It wasn’t though. And it was soon proven that the DPT vaccine didn’t cause SIDS, encephalitis, non-febrile seizures, and many other things it was supposed to have caused.
“Anecdotes – about a new miracle cure, a drug that is not being made available on the NHS, or the side effects of treatment, or some environmental hazard – sell product. Data, on the other hand, which take us towards the truth about these things, are less popular. Anecdotes, however many times they are multiplied, do not point the way to reliable knowledge. As the aphorism says, “The plural of anecdote is not data”.”
Raymond Tallis on Anecdotes, data and the curse of the media case study.
That anecdotes “sell” better than data may be one reason why you see them so often on anti-vaccine websites. Another is that they simply don’t have any good data to use as evidence!
Are Vaccine Injury Stories True?
Vaccines are not 100% safe, so there is no doubt that some vaccine injury stories are true.
There is also no doubt that what many people perceive to be vaccine injuries have actually been proven to not be caused by vaccines, from allergies and eczema to autism and MS.
“In the absence of a specific etiology for ASDs, and a tendency among parents of children with a disability to feel a strong sense of guilt, it is not surprising that parents attempt to form their own explanations for the disorder in order to cope with the diagnosis.”
Mercer et al on Parental perspectives on the causes of an autism spectrum disorder in their children
Also keep in mind that in addition to the many so-called vaccine induced diseases, there are many historical vaccine injury stories that have been shown to be untrue:
- the first deaf Miss America did not have a vaccine injury
- Johnnie Kinnear supposedly began having seizures 7 hours after getting a DPT vaccine, when he was 14-months-old, but medical records actually shown that his seizures started 5 months after he received his vaccines
- Dravet syndrome now explains many severe seizures associated with vaccinations
And at least one of Wakefield’s own followers – a mother who claimed that the MMR vaccine caused her son’s autism, was “dismissed as a manipulative liar” by a court in the UK.
Vaccine Injury Stories are Dangerous
Do vaccine injury stories have a purpose? They might help a parent cope with a diagnosis in the short term, but vaccine injury stories are dangerous in so many ways.
We have seen how they create anxiety for many parents, which can scare them away from vaccinating and protecting their kids from life-threatening vaccine-preventable diseases.
What else can they do?
They can certainly build up mistrust towards pediatricians and other health professionals. That is one way that the anti-vaccine movement continues to hurt autistic families. They also can lead parents to think that their “vaccine injured” child is “damaged” in some way.
And they push parents towards dangerous, unproven, unnecessary, and expensive alternative treatments. It shouldn’t be a surprise that many of the sites and forums that push vaccine injury stories also promote a lot of dangerous advice.
From recommending goat milk for your baby and skipping your baby’s vitamin K shot to various kinds of detoxing “treatments,” these are not the folks you want to trust with the health of your child.
What to Know About Vaccine Injury Stories
Vaccine injury stories prey on the fears of parents, help drive a wedge between them and their pediatricians, and are considered by many experts to be the lifeblood of the anti-vaccine movement.
More on Vaccine Injury Stories
- Vaccine Injury Stories: the Sacred Cows of the Internet?
- Study – Story and science – How providers and parents can utilize storytelling to combat anti-vaccine misinformation
- Judge “not satisfied” that whooping cough vaccine causes permanent brain damage
- Study – Parental perspectives on the causes of an autism spectrum disorder in their children.
- Study – Understanding Vaccines: A Public Imperative
- Study – Vaccine-Hesitant Justifications: “Too Many, Too Soon,” Narrative Persuasion, and the Conflation of Expertise.
- Study – Parents’ vaccination comprehension and decisions.
- Study – Vaccinating parents experience vaccine anxiety too.
- Study – MMR: risk, choice, chance.
- Study – Anecdotes, data and the curse of the media case study.
- No Love for Anecdotal Evidence
- The media’s MMR hoax
- WHO – Impact of rumours and crises
- Study – Inoculating communities against vaccine scare stories.
- Study – Unrealistic Hope and Unnecessary Fear: Exploring How Sensationalistic News Stories Influence Health Behavior Motivation.
- I was Duped by the Anti-Vaccine Movement
- A look at the numbers in vaccine reactions
- Book – The Panic Virus
- Book – Deadly Choices