Baker Institute expert: Vaccination myths must be debunked

EXPERT ALERT

Jeff Falk
713-348-6775
jfalk@rice.edu

Baker Institute expert: Vaccination myths must be debunked  

HOUSTON – (Oct. 30, 2018) – An analysis of anti-vaccine witness statements presented during the Texas Legislature’s 2017 session revealed recurring misconceptions that need to be challenged, according to an expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Credit: 123RF.com/Rice University

Kirstin Matthews, a fellow in science and technology policy in the Center for Health and Biosciences at the Baker Institute, is available to discuss the science and necessity of vaccinations with the media. She and Baker Institute graduate intern Melody Tan are the authors of two new issue briefs that examine the common anti-vaccine arguments and misconceptions presented during public hearings for two Texas House bills on vaccinations.

Matthews also discusses these issues on the Baker Institute’s most recent “Policy Matters” podcast.

According to Matthews and Tan, the five recurring misconceptions are vaccines are ineffective, herd immunity is a myth, vaccines “shed” and cause the spread of disease, the impacts of vaccine-preventable diseases are minor and vaccine-exempt children are not spreading disease. “Each of these myths is inaccurate and unscientific,” the authors wrote. “Furthermore, the witnesses failed to use accurate scientific data to justify them. The few witnesses who did try to cite research grossly misunderstood or misinterpreted the data.”

Given these misconceptions, there is a clear need to increase awareness among policymakers and the public of vaccines’ positive impact, the negative consequences of an undervaccinated population and how policies can help influence vaccination rates in Texas, the authors said.

“One way is to encourage broad public participation in discussions on vaccines that involve physicians, scientists, parents and students — especially those who are at risk by being around undervaccinated children,” the authors wrote. “In addition, scientists and doctors should share and discuss publicly available data and research on vaccines and their impacts on public health.”

The authors said that without strong public support for vaccines and vaccine research, Texas runs the risk of allowing more people to opt out for nonmedical reasons, thereby increasing the risk of vaccine-preventable disease.

“Vaccines are low-cost solutions to often expensive and debilitating illnesses,” the authors wrote. “They reduce the public financial burden and increase public health. They are a critical tool for public health and should be encouraged and promoted by the state Legislature by increasing access, not disparaged by allowing myths to perpetuate unchallenged.”

To interview Matthews, contact Jeff Falk, associate director of national media relations at Rice, at jfalk@rice.edu or 713-348-6775.

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Issue brief on “Medical Freedom, Privacy, and Fear of Discrimination: The 2017 Texas Legislative Session Anti-vaccine Arguments”: www.bakerinstitute.org/media/files/research-document/eb91c418/bi-brief-102218-chb-anti-vaccine-arguments.pdf

Issue brief on “Scientific Misconceptions and Myths Perpetuated in the 2017 Texas Legislative Session”: https://www.bakerinstitute.org/media/files/research-document/8308f919/bi-brief-102318-chb-vaccinemyths.pdf

Matthews biography: http://bakerinstitute.org/experts/kirstin-rw-matthews.

Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks among the top three university-affiliated think tanks in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at www.bakerinstitute.org or on the institute’s blog, http://blogs.chron.com/bakerblog.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.