The anti-vaccination movement has taken social media by storm. From anti-vaccination propaganda, to websites, to support groups, there is a lot of controversy over the topic. The belief that vaccines can cause autism is considered to be an extraordinary belief, but is relatively new. The idea that vaccines are bad in general can be traced back to 19th century England. People began refusing to vaccinate infants against smallpox, and those in positions of power were not ensuring that this was being enforced anyways. Eventually, there was a huge outbreak of smallpox, but this doesn’t discourage anti-vaccination supporters today. This belief is problematic because of a term called herd immunity. Herd immunity happens when a lot of people in one area receive a vaccine, therefore protecting those who cannot receive certain vaccines from life potentially threatening diseases. When people don’t vaccinate their children by choice, they are essentially breaking this herd immunity, which puts the lives of children who are unable to get vaccines at risk. Today, anti-vaccination propaganda claims that vaccines cause autism. Information that supports or deters these claims can be found anywhere on the internet, however it is not all true. Some articles that may seem scientific, are not; and this easy access to misinformation is actually influencing whether or not people are vaccinating their children.
There is a lot of factual evidence surrounding the positive side of vaccinations. Proof of this can be seen when something like herd immunity is compromised. If a preventable disease breaks out in a community, the people who can’t receive vaccinations are the ones who are most likely to get the disease. There has been research that suggests that there is no link between vaccines and autism, which is one of the main concerns of the anti-vaccination movement. The idea that the chemicals in vaccines are what causes autism have also been deterred. When individuals don’t vaccinate their children because they don’t want them to have autism, they are putting their child and the rest of the community at risk for potentially fatal diseases.
On the other hand, many anti-vaccination supporters also provide facts that appear to show vaccines do cause autism. Many supporters of the movement tend to believe that the side effects of vaccines are what cause autism. Those who support vaccinations commonly assume that anti-vaccination supporters do not understand herd immunity, but they do. They understand that not vaccinating children has its risks, but the side effects are also risky. There have been articles about hiding information in regards to vaccines causing autism. One particular article states that a doctor hid the fact that he found evidence that vaccines cause autism. When a doctor provides information like that, it is hard to ignore, which is why many anti-vaccination supporters have clung to this idea.
So, why do people still believe that vaccines cause autism, even when there is evidence that it is not true? The social and cognitive aspects of this go hand in hand. One of the main reasons is due to the internet, specifically with the prevalence of social media. In today’s society, it is much easier to consult the internet as opposed to a health professional. Because of this, people wholeheartedly believe information that is actually misinforming them. They are viewing data and research that is not entirely accurate and taking it at face value. Some anti-vaccination supporters think that vaccines don’t work, and others believe conspiracy theories that the government is causing illnesses and diseases intentionally through vaccinations. Predatory journals, which can publish any information even if it is not scientifically accurate, can lead people to believe these things about vaccines as well. Regardless of the reason, anti-vaccination supporters will choose this data over advice from medical professionals.
Anti-vaccination supporters find evidence to support their case primarily on the internet. However, the reasons that they believe the information that they read can be different from person to person. Biases help a person maintain the beliefs that they have about a situation. In the case of anti-vaccination supporters, they are looking for evidence to confirm their ideas, rather than deny them. This is called a confirmation bias and can cause people to believe information that they see relevant to their topic, while ignoring counterevidence. There is also a term called the availability error, which refers to retaining information that one sees as significant. When it comes to anti-vaccination supporters, the anti-vaccination propaganda is more appealing, and therefore better remembered and enforced throughout their community.
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