Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions & Misinformation

Way back in 2010, when Women Thinking, inc was running the Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated campaign, we were writing material to use to convince parents to vaccinate their children. The problem was that we had no idea what the most convincing arguments were. That’s when we got the idea to conduct a marketing research survey to determine the types of messages that parents would find most persuasive in convincing them that vaccinating their children is the best choice. We met with the JREF‘s D.J. Grothe and he loved our idea and agreed to fund it.

Last week I posted a summary of some of the results. Well, today the full report has finally been published.

You can read it yourself right here.

In the coming days I’ll be posting some of our most interesting findings and the ways in which you can use our results to convince any of your family and friends that are worried about vaccines that vaccination is the best choice to protect them and their family. In the meantime, there were a lot of people that worked hard over the last couple years to make this report happen. It’s time they were thanked.

Thank you so much to all of the following people.

Board Members & Advisory Members of Women Thinking, inc:

  • Elyse Anders: Elyse believed in this project from the beginning and served as President of Women Thinking, Inc for all but the last couple weeks that we were working on it. She was our leader, encouraged us, gave advice, and did a lot of the volunteer and writing work. None of this would have ever happened without her.
  • Louise Kellar: Louise was essential to a lot of the operational organization of the expos back when we were first starting the project. She even traveled with me to Fort Lauderdale for the expo there, where she introduced me to Ghost Adventures. In the last couple weeks she took over as President of Women Thinking, inc and was essential to getting the report published.
  • Ashley Hamer: You might know her from Mad Art Lab, but she’s also a board member of Women Thinking, inc. She did a good portion of the writing for the report and almost all of the editing. Additionally, she took over as head of the project during the couple months in 2012 when I had to take leave from the board.
  • Matt Lowry: Matt was the most positive member of Women Thinking, inc and kept us going when we got overwhelmed. He was always ready to give good advice and do any work himself such as volunteering at the Chicago expo and doing editing for the report.
  • Jacqueline Hargis: Jacqueline was the most experienced of all of us in writing reports such as this and as such, she wrote the first draft for some of the main sections. She also had a hand in a lot of the editing.
  • Katie Hovany: Another member of Mad Art Lab, Katie did all the design and graphics for the report. The report we linked to here today was the 22nd draft. Katie create each and every draft and was quick to do anything we asked such as designing graphs, creating graphics, incorporating edits, changing colors then changing them back, etc, often with very little info from us on exactly what we wanted and with quick turn-arounds. She was basically a design super hero.
  • Ben Lurvey, Beth Voigt, Megan Wells: All of them have helped out Women Thinking, inc when we needed volunteers in various capacities, especially in the first year or so of the project. They volunteered at the Chicago expo and helped with a lot of the data entry.


James Randi Education Foundation 

  • D.J. Grothe: When I went to him with our idea in December of 2010, he believed in it enough to give us a much-needed grant to make this happen. He also not only was involved in the project from the beginning but also put his employees on the project to give us some much needed help. None of this would have existed without him.
  • Sadie Crabtree: Sadie worked closely with us on the survey design and especially in making sure our demographic questions were inclusive. It wouldn’t have been the same survey without her.
  • Carrie Poppy: Carrie helped us do some editing on the report summary in the lead-up to TAM 2012. She had a bunch of great ideas that we were able to incorporate.


Expo Volunteers

  • Baltimore: Catherine Blackwell let me come stay at her house during the Baltimore expo even though we had never met and Brian Gregory drove me around all weekend and joined me as a volunteer at the expo.
  • Fort Lauderdale: The Center for Inquiry Fort Lauderdale and Jeanette Madea made Louise and I feel right at home when we came for the expo. They invited us to a fantastic dinner where I was introduced to sake, drove us around all weekend, and volunteered at the expo.



  • Dr. Harriet Hall, Dr. David Gorski, Dr. Chip Denman: All three of them looked over our report prior to publication and all of them gave us detailed information about which parts they thought were good, where they felt we were overstepping our claims, and other advice. This is a better report because they were willing to share with us their time, experience and knowledge.



Again, if you haven’t read the report yet, then what are you waiting for. Go. Go read it. Go now.

Download our report: Immunization: Myths, Misconception and Misinformation

Jamie Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein is a data, stats, policy and economics nerd who sometimes pretends she is a photographer. She is @uajamie on Twitter and Instagram. If you like my work here at Skepchick & Mad Art Lab, consider sending me a little sumthin' in my TipJar: @uajamie

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  1. This is fantastic! Congratulations to you all.

    I’m not sure how best to reach the “unsure”, but they seem to be a much bigger group than the “averse”, and so are probably where effort should be concentrated. It seems (like many memes), just repeating a negatively phrased message like “vaccines don’t cause autism” or “vaccines don’t contain toxic levels of bad chemicals” just causes people, especially people who aren’t certain, to hear “vaccines, autism” and “vaccines, toxins”.*

    We can emphasize the positive messages, that vaccines are safe, that they protect your children, that they work the same way as exposure to the actual disease, but with none of the risks of the actual infection. We can also emphasize how incredibly tough little babies are despite appearances (I think most parents would like to believe their children are potential superheros), and their immune systems routinely deal successfully with dozens or hundreds of novel pathogens every day. (To me, that was the best argument against the “too many, too soon” anti-vax canard.)

    I don’t think you can just ignore the anti-vax arguments (especially “vaccines cause autism”, which was surprisingly prevalent, despite years of debunking), but if we can come up with some way to make a positive message from this, that would be great. (Unlike the other side, we can’t just lie and say “vaccines cure autism.”)

    Lots of food for thought in this study**, I’m glad it has finally been published.

    Possibly, emphasizing that Big Pharma doesn’t like vaccines because the profit margin is too low and treating disease is much more profitable than preventing disease, would counter the notion that the government is in cahoots with the pharmaceutical industry to foist unsafe vaccines on the public. But maybe that’s too negative and too conspiracy-promoting to be a good message.

    [*] There was an example of this on The Skeptics Guide to the Universe not long ago, where one of Science or Fiction items was something they had previously discussed as false, but Steve still fooled some of the Rogues with it. (I think it was “one of the coolest new species discovered last year”, and the Fiction was the exact opposite of what they had discussed as a news item a year earlier. So we are all vulnerable to this effect.)

    [**] BTW, there was a typo on page 13: “are survey” should be “our survey”. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    1. “I am not a crook.” -Nixon <— The best example ever of how denying something makes others believe it stronger.

      Also, I love that you caught a typo. Did you see the number of editors and versions we had? That got by all of us multiple times. You've got a sharp eye!

      1. Proof of sharp eyes: I once found a typo in the New Yorker, and it was while reading it in my eye doctor’s waiting room. :-) :-) Take that, severe myopia!

  2. Congratulations to everyone! I’m so glad this is going to be released. Here’s hoping it makes a difference.

  3. Yay, and congratulations, and thank you all for your work!
    I notice that the sruvey was done in locations that, as far as I can tell, are not the areas where there is the largest increase in unvaccinated children. As a resident of one of the areas that is (hello Portlandia!), I see a possiblility of the very last argument backfiring (“trusting my doctor when it comes to keeping my child safe”) due to the fact that *so* many people have “doctors” (and sometimes even doctors) that recommend against vaccinations. Heck, Jenny McCarthy originally heard about vaccines causing her child’s autism from a doctor she took her child to, and Mayim Bialik based her anti-vaccination stance on advice from her doctor (possibly the same doctor? I think I read that somewhere but I can’t find a source now).
    Literally everyone I know in Portland who doesn’t vaccinate their kids or does an alternate schedule (which is a LOT of people) has the backup of their MD or ND. Framing an argument around their child’s doctor “cut(ting) through the noise and do what is best for (their) child’s health” is going to be an argument against vaccination, not in favor of it.

    1. We actually asked people on the survey whether their doctor was for, against, or neutral regarding vaccines, but for some reason those were very popular questions for parents to of just skipped over without answering. My guess was that many of these parents had not yet had the vaccination talk with their pediatrician and therefore didn’t know how to answer this question, but we don’t really know. Because of the low number of parents answering this question, we didn’t feel like we could get accurate results from it and ended up dropping it from the analysis. It is definitely a concern though, especially in areas like Fort Lauderdale where most of our surveys came from.

    2. I also want to mention that we had two other expos planned, both in areas that have had lots of parents opting out of vaccinations. Unfortunately due to grant cuts we did not have the funds to attend the last two expos and just had to make-due with what we had.

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