Photos of sick children may sway anti-vaxxers

Tugging on heart strings may be the key to persuading vaccination skeptics to immunise their children, new research has found.

A study says showing anti-vaxxers pictures of a child with measles, or getting them to read an account written by a mum whose child was infected, is the best way to convince them of the benefits of immunisation.

It works better than giving them research that shows there is no link between vaccines and increased risk of autism, the University of Illinois study shows.

Study co-author Zachary Horne says the researchers found showing even the most skeptical participants pictures of sick children or mums’ stories changes their attitudes – leading them to think more positively about vaccinations.

The study says the number of measles cases in the United States tripled to 644 from 2013 to 2014 – that’s after the disease was thought to have been eliminated in 2000. “The re-emergence of measles has been linked to an increase in the number of parents refusing to vaccinate their children,” Mr Horne tells LiveScience.

In the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 315 people were divided into one of three groups. The first group looked at science-based information, the second group looked at photos of children with measles, mumps or rubella, and a passage written by a mother describing how the disease affected her child. They also read three warnings about the importance of vaccinations. The third group, a control group, was asked to read about something not related to vaccines.

Researchers then re-evaluated participants’ views on vaccinations, and whether they would immunise their children in the future. They found the people who had been shown pictures and mums’ stories had the biggest change of heart about vaccinations. But just showing people facts and figures didn’t convince them to alter their beliefs.

British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield first linked the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism in a 1998 paper that has since been discredited as a fraud. But many anti-vaccination lobbyists still quote his research or other studies that support his views.

Mr Horne tells LiveScience that instead of just arguing that there is no link between vaccines and autism, pro-vaxxers should focus on highlighting the consequences of not getting children vaccinated.


Michelle Rose

Michelle Rose

Michelle is a journalist and mum to two girls who are obsessed with dinosaurs, fairies, pirates and princesses in equal measure. She lives in Melbourne's east with her husband, daughters and a giant, untameable labradoodle. Michelle loves all things vegetarian, wine (it's a fruit) and online shopping.

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