For the overwhelming majority of us, it seems like a simple decision – get your kids vaccinated and protected and avoid all of the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases.
After all, we understand that vaccines are safe and necessary.
But folks who choose to skip or delay vaccines want to do what is best for their kids too, even as they come to the exact opposite decision, so who is making the smarter choice?
Are Anti-Vaccine Folks Smarter Than the Rest of Us?
Not surprisingly, anti-vaccine folks think they are smarter.
“In the end we are left with a powerful sense of knowledge – false knowledge. Confirmation bias leads to a high level of confidence, we feel we are right in our gut. And when confronted with someone saying we are wrong, or promoting an alternate view, some people become hostile.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is not just a curiosity of psychology, it touches on a critical aspect of the default mode of human thought, and a major flaw in our thinking. It also applies to everyone – we are all at various places on that curve with respect to different areas of knowledge. You may be an expert in some things, and competent in others, but will also be toward the bottom of the curve in some areas of knowledge.”
Steven Novella on Lessons from Dunning-Kruger
While it is easy to blame it on the Dunning-Kruger effect, a study that appeared in the July 2004 issue of Pediatrics, Children who have received no vaccines: who are they and where do they live?, is often used by anti-vaccine folks to reinforce the idea that they are smarter.
“Undervaccinated children tended to be black, to have a younger mother who was not married and did not have a college degree, to live in a household near the poverty level, and to live in a central city. Unvaccinated children tended to be white, to have a mother who was married and had a college degree, to live in a household with an annual income exceeding 75,000 dollars, and to have parents who expressed concerns regarding the safety of vaccines and indicated that medical doctors have little influence over vaccination decisions for their children”
Children who have received no vaccines: who are they and where do they live?
But the part of the study that is often quoted is comparing unvaccinated vs undervaccinated.
In the same study, the education level of unvaccinated vs vaccinated is virtually the same.
And the differences for the unvaccinated vs undervaccinated kids was about their living near the poverty level. If these families grew up with less money, they likely had less opportunities to go to school, and unfortunately, had less opportunities to keep their kids up-to-date on their vaccines.
One study, Maternal characteristics and hospital policies as risk factors for nonreceipt of hepatitis B vaccine in the newborn nursery, did seem to associate a higher education level with refusing the newborn hepatitis B vaccine, but an even bigger factor was being born in a facility that actually had a policy that offered the vaccine.
“Likewise, vaccine refusal now appears to be less a function of socioeconomic status than it once was. Previously, maternal education was strongly associated with vaccine refusal, but now mothers without a high school diploma are even more likely than college graduates to have unvaccinated children . Also, unvaccinated children are no longer found primarily in the highest income households (perhaps a function of income data being top-coded at $50,000), but now are equally likely to live in households with more moderate (or even below poverty) incomes.”
Laura Blakeslee on Trends and Characteristics of Unvaccinated Children in the United States : The National Immunization Survey, 2002 − 2010
Other studies have either showed a higher level of college graduates for those who vaccinated their kids or no difference.
What about all of the experts in the anti-vaccine movement? Remember that the heroes and so called experts of the the anti-vaccine movement mostly includes celebrities, some doctors and scientists who are practicing way out of their field of expertise when they talk about vaccines, and others whose work is not supported by the great majority of experts in their field.
That’s not necessarily the end of the story though.
Yet another study (a small survey), Parental Delay or Refusal of Vaccine Doses, Childhood Vaccination Coverage at 24 Months of Age, and the Health Belief Model, found that as compared to parents who vaccinated their kids, those who delayed or refused vaccines:
- were less likely to think that vaccines were necessary
- were less likely to think that their kids would get a disease if they weren’t vaccinated
- were less likely to believe that vaccines are safe
- were more likely to believe that vaccines caused serious side effects
- were more likely to believe that children get too many vaccines
And surprisingly, considering that the above things are basically anti-vaccine talking points that are easily disproven, they were actually more likely to have gone to college and to be a college graduate. It is not a surprise that they were less likely to have a good relationship with their doctor and were less likely to believe that their doctor had their child’s best interest at heart.
So maybe some anti-vaccine parents are indeed well-educated about some things, but that just gets us back to the Dunning-Kruger effect, as they certainly aren’t making smart decisions about vaccines.
Fortunately, this is still a very small, although very vocal, minority of people, as most parents vaccinate and protect their kids.
What to Know About Anti-Vaccine Intelligence and Education
Parents who choose to skip or delay their child’s vaccines are not making smart decisions about vaccines.
More on Anti-Vaccine Intelligence and Education
- Study – Children who have received no vaccines: who are they and where do they live?
- Study – Children and Adolescents Unvaccinated Against Measles: Geographic Clustering, Parents’ Beliefs, and Missed Opportunities
- Study – Sociodemographic Predictors of Vaccination Exemptions on the Basis of Personal Belief in California.
- Study – Student HPV vaccine attitudes and vaccine completion by education level.
- Study – Maternal characteristics and hospital policies as risk factors for nonreceipt of hepatitis B vaccine in the newborn nursery.
- Study – Trends and Characteristics of Unvaccinated Children in the United States : The National Immunization Survey, 2002 − 2010
- Study – Parental Delay or Refusal of Vaccine Doses, Childhood Vaccination Coverage at 24 Months of Age, and the Health Belief Model
- Identification and characteristics of vaccine refusers
- Education and Vaccine Uptake
- Lessons from Dunning-Kruger
- I used to be a vaccine skeptic. Now I’m a believer.
- Why I wish my daughter had been vaccinated
- ‘Manipulation’ of vaccination fears
- The end of vaccine anxiety
- Study – Internet Exposure Associated With Canadian Parents’ Perception of Risk on Childhood Immunization: Cross-Sectional Study.
- I Used To Be Anti-Vaccine
- I was Duped by the Anti-Vaccine Movement
- Learning the Hard Way: My Journey from #AntiVaxx to Science
- I Didn’t Vaccinate My Child—And I Regret It
- Some Parents Fall for Vaccination Scare Stories, with Deadly Results
- Evaluating Vaccines Requires Critical Thinking
- Letting go of the Paradigm of Fear
- Why are we so afraid of vaccines?
- Vaccines: Separating Fact from Fear
- Public Health Takes on Anti-Vaccine Propaganda: Damage done, Challenges Ahead
- The Rise and Fall of Pink Disease