Summary of Vaccine Survey Results

As you have probably already heard, Women Thinking, inc has spent the last couple years working on a project funded by the JREF to survey parents who are fence-sitters on the issue of vaccinating their children. The project is a kind of market survey to learn which arguments these parents find most persuasive in convincing them that vaccinating their children is the right choice.

Although the JREF was generous in their funding of the project and nothing would have ever gotten off the ground without them, there have been lots of issues with the partnership. Even so, the project is done and our results are ready to go live. I worked hard to finish the project but it was stressful to work on it and with the JREF, so I resigned from Women Thinking, Inc after I sent the final report off.

Hug Me Sloth

I wish I could be here bringing you the final completed report, but unfortunately D.J. Grothe has chosen to hold it hostage for petty reasons. So, I’m not here to give you the report in full. When stewing about this yesterday though, I realized that I did have something I could bring to you all.

You see, the report was basically done by TAM 2012. Nevertheless, we wanted to have some third party experts read it first and make sure they agreed that our conclusions followed from our data. There was not time to do this by TAM, so after talking with the JREF, they agreed that we would publish it post-TAM but drum up some excitement about the project by publishing a 1 page summary of the survey results and have it available at the Women Thinking, inc table. This document was approved by both the JREF and Women Thinking, inc and was available to anyone who walked by our table to pick it up.

You are now welcome to download your own copy of the survey results summary.

You really should take a look at the PDF because WT,inc board member Katie Hovany who you may know from Mad Art Lab, made it look really pretty. If you really don’t want to download anything though, I copied all the text below.




In 2011, Women Thinking, inc. and the James Randi Educational Foundation, as part of the Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated campaign, set out to determine what real parents thought about immunization. By distributing surveys (253 in total) at baby and parenting-themed expos that took place in three distinct areas of the country, we got a sense of people’s feelings on vaccine safety, their beliefs about disease risk, and the media sources they turn to when they need an answer about these subjects. Here are some of the results we found.

Even anti-vaccination advocates know that vaccines protect against disease.

By tailoring our early questions to determine who trusted vaccines and who didn’t, we were able to divide the participants into three groups, which we dubbed pro- vaccine, vaccine-averse, and vaccine-unsure. When we asked them to agree or disagree with the statement

“Vaccines provide protection from contracting infectious diseases,” 82% of participants agreed including 47% of the most vaccine-averse responders. Almost half of those choosing not to immunize are doing so despite the understanding that vaccines protect, not because of a lack of understanding or a rejection of that point.

Even when reading a statement about vaccines being victims of their own success—i.e., disease rates are now so low that we no longer need to immunize against the rarer ones—most the participants didn’t buy it, including 41% of those who sincerely distrust vaccines.

Vaccine advocates spend a lot of time and energy spreading the message that immunizing protects against disease, and that even the ones you’ve never heard of can still come back if we get lax on vaccinations. It’s clear that people already know that. We should shift our focus.

Parents really do think that vaccines cause autism.

With the answers about disease protection looking so optimistic, it almost started to look like vaccine advocates were happily wrong on all fronts when it came to parental knowledge. Unfortunately, only 37% disagreed when faced with the statement that vaccines cause autism. Even a whopping 39% of the pro-vaccine respondents—those who shouldn’t need convincing—said they were unsure. What’s more, our statement recounting the tale of Andrew Wakefield and his single fraudulent study proved to be the least persuasive argument we posed in our survey. It’s beginning to look like vaccine advocates’ repeated exclamations that vaccines do not cause autism are just leading parents to wonder if they might. In short, the vaccine-autism myth is one we’ll have to spend time fighting, but we shouldn’t make it our focus to avoid giving it too much weight in parents’ minds.

Parents don’t trust the government or the pharmaceutical industry.

It might seem obvious, but it was a question worth asking. When they encountered statements declaring that the WHO and CDC downplay vaccine risks, that vaccines contain large doses of toxic chemicals, or that the government was in the pocket of Big Pharma, the parents who disagreed were in the minority. Vaccine advocates have often been quick to brush off these concerns. In contrast to what many think, the people who believe these things are not fringe extremists; rather, they make up a large majority of parents with children. Perhaps the best strategy is for organizations that are not affiliated with the government or the pharmaceutical industry to play up that fact to help gain the trust of their target audience.

Most people aren’t aware they need immunization boosters.

Diseases like whooping cough are making a comeback in this country. The Tdap vaccine protects against whooping cough, and though most people got this vaccine as a child, it needs to be renewed every 10 years (and given as soon as possible to anyone whose last tetanus shot was in 2007 or earlier) in order to maintain the body’s immunity. We found that even among the most pro-vaccine respondents, more than a third didn’t know that some vaccines required boosters. Because persuading an anti-vaccine advocate that vaccines are safe is harder than educating someone who’s already pro-vaccine about the need for boosters, the latter is one of the most efficient and effective ways to make sure as many people as possible are up-to-date on all their vaccinations.

Parents pay attention when not vaccinating is turned into an active choice.

“I wouldn’t put my child into a car without a safety belt or a car seat. I won’t put my child at risk by leaving him/ her without immunizations, either. It’s my responsibility to make sure my child is protected from dangerous illnesses.” This argument turns the act of passively failing to vaccinate one’s child into a voluntary action, and it convinces two thirds of our survey respondents. Because it frames a simple lack of action as presenting their children with a real threat akin to a car crash, parents can visualize the harm that can result from their unwillingness to act. This is an uncommon strategy, but it has proven to be an effective one.

This is a sample of the survey report. Full results will be released August 2012.

For questions or more information on this project or Women Thinking, Inc., please contact [email protected].

For information on the JREF, contact [email protected].


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. On the “Not trusting Big Pharma/the government” thing… it’s a tough one, because frankly, a lot of large pharma companies have gone out of their way to earn that distrust. The problem is, people conflate different allegations, without considering the evidence for each individually. (See also: Monsanto, GMO foods.) It may help to point out that one of the primary ‘wrong’ things the companies do is manipulate patent laws to keep the price of the vaccines higher than they should be. This makes it clear you’re not just a lackey of the companies, giving you an ‘in’ over that shared distrust.

    1. There are a.. lot of reasons for high prices, on all medications, and yes, some of it is greed. Some of it is the refusal of such companies to sell “low margin” products, leaving it to smaller number of companies to make those drugs (and one can presume vaccines in some cases, maybe), while they market the next, “great thing ™”.But, then there is a the insurance industry, the medical industry, and others, like drug scalpers. Those people stock pile extra amounts of things, then wait for a shortage, do to manufacturing problems, or the like, then charge 10, 20, or even 100 times the cost to hospitals, to get the drug, as they would have normally paid. When you combine insurance companies trying to avoid actually paying for a single damn thing, corrupt doctors (one local one closed his doors, didn’t tell any of his employees what is going on, and now bills, some for thousands of dollars, are showing up in their mail boxes, which, if they where legit in the first place *should have” been paid out by the insurance, only.. in one case, the same doctor used up the full $1,500 coverage for the year they had, in the first month, and never finished treatment). There is corruption all through the whole system, and it exists *precisely* because of a lack of oversight, no restrictions on how much they can scam off the customers, and little not no recourse, especially in states where laws have been passed to supposedly, “stop unreasonable lawsuits”, and other malfeasance, by everyone from the manufacturer, to the insurance company, to the hospital, and even some of the doctors, who seem to be able to get by with charging 2-3 times the amount someone down the street does, while doing shittier practice.

      But, that’s all OK, because we have the “altie med” people, whom the same people that don’t trust big pharma **do** seem to trust, which in less than 15 years went from an illegal, and nearly non-existent industry, of which only “mega-vitamin” companies where getting by with selling things they hadn’t proven where safe, to one that, since 1994 is not worth more than $34 billion, and of the following requirements, which big pharma is “required” to at least try to follow, or, in some cases, try to keep from getting caught breaking, only the one one not struck out is required of them:

      1. List of ingredients – 1902, or around there.
      2. Proof that it won’t harm the people taking it – some time around the 1920s.
      3. Proof that it actually does what they claim it does – Years later, but not sure of the date.
      4. Warning labels, showing side effects of taking the drug – 1970s?

      But, the response.. is hardly a surprise. If the person selling you a product doesn’t need to test for safety, effectiveness, or even admit they know about problems.. Its going to look a lot like the multibillion dollar Pharam industry might be lying about even more than they have been caught at, while the multibillion dollar “alternative” industry is pure as driven snow.. Funny how that works…

  2. Moniqa and muddgirl: Follow the link about JREF and DJ sitting on the report for petty reasons. It’s… depressing, even moreso than usual, actually.

    1. I saw that last post, but the email from DJ seemed to imply the hold-up was spurred by recent events. Didn’t realize that this had been on the backburner for so long. Glad it’s finally out!

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