Feb 03 2017

Pew Vaccine Survey – Some Good and Bad News

Pew recently published a surveyvaccines-Pew-2017 looking at the attitudes of Americans regarding the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. The results are not surprising, but there are some interesting bits in the data.

The headline main results are that 88% of those surveyed thought that the benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks, while only 10% thought the risks outweigh the benefits. Further, 82% supported mandatory vaccinations for healthy school children.

This is both good and bad news. It means a solid majority of Americans understand that vaccines are safe and effective. However, the minority who doubt the safety of vaccines are enough to cause problems. Also, those numbers are a bit worse when you dig into the data.

Parents of young children, age 0-4, were more negative about vaccines, with only 81% stating that the benefits outweigh the risks, compared to 91% of those with older children and 90% of those with no children.  Parents of young children are the ones deciding if they get vaccinated. The reason for this is likely that parents with young children are facing the decision of whether or not to vaccinate and are looking for information online. They are therefore more likely to come across anti-vaccine propaganda. Parents of young children may also be easier to scare than more experienced parents.

These numbers are important because of herd immunity – if enough of the population is vaccinated, then a disease outbreak cannot find enough susceptible hosts to spread and will therefore peter out quickly. This will keep the disease from being endemic, meaning that it is self-sustaining in the population.

If vaccination rates drop below around 90% then herd immunity is lost, and diseases that were once gone can once again become endemic and outbreaks will be more common and more severe. This has been happening to measles, for example.

Further, vaccine refusal is not randomly distributed in the population, but occurs in clusters, making outbreaks in those populations even more likely. Even if the overall vaccine refusal rate is low, there can still be pockets where herd immunity is lost.

The Pew data contains some clues as to why this happens. African Americans and Hispanics were more likely to have negative views toward vaccines than whites. The reason for this is unclear, but it may have something to do with the overall trust of the system.

Unsurprisingly, those who use “alternative medicine” were more likely to have negative views toward vaccines. For the heaviest alternative medicine users 26% felt that parents should be able to refuse vaccines for their children even if it puts other children at risk, compared to 13% of those who never used alternative medicine.

This factor likely has several causes, but chief among them is likely the fact that many alternative medicine practitioners and proponents are anti-vaccine. Vaccines, and science-based medicine, are competitors to purveyors of snake-oil, so it helps if you convince your customers that the competitor doesn’t work or isn’t safe. Just look at the ads on any anti-vaccine website and you will see the connection.

Political ideology had little effect on vaccine views, which fits prior surveys showing that anti-vaccine views are bipartisan. However, conservatives were more likely to endorse the parents’ right to refuse vaccines, likely because of libertarian beliefs.

There is what I think is some potential good news in the survey. They also found that those with more science knowledge were more likely to support vaccines, and those who understood what “herd immunity” is were also more likely to support vaccines. This suggests that education should be an effective tool in increasing vaccine compliance.

It does seem from the data that those more likely to be getting their information from the internet are more likely to come across anti-vaccine propaganda as well. This means that we really need to engage in social media and wherever we can on the web to fight anti-vaccine misinformation, and to educate the public about the science and safety of vaccines.

It can be tiring to challenge the same misinformation over and over again, but that is what we need to do. It does seem that people who hold fringe views, or those tinged with conspiracy thinking, are more passionate and tireless. Mainstream scientists and academics, on the other hand, tend to tire easily of the nonsense. So there is a fundamental asymmetry in which the fringe voices (which are often wrong) tend to be louder and more persistent.

I do, however, think there is another fundamental asymmetry in that the science-based position is better supported (by definition) by facts and logic, and that does carry a certain advantage. This is not a definitive advantage, but it does help. It only helps, however, if we get the word out there, which again gets back to being vigilant and just as tireless as the promoters of dangerous nonsense.

The survey also suggests that, yet again, society benefits when the population is more scientifically literate. We need to improve education in science and critical thinking in general, and continuously correct the record on vaccines specifically.

Meanwhile, there is already a solid majority of Americans who support vaccines, and they need to make their political voice heard (especially now that we have a president who is demonstrably anti-vaccine).

20 responses so far

20 Responses to “Pew Vaccine Survey – Some Good and Bad News”

  1. Rogue Medicon 03 Feb 2017 at 10:48 am

    This factor likely has several causes, but chief among them is likely the fact that many alternative medicine practitioners and proponents are anti-vaccine.

    Anti-vaxers portray vaccines as a conspiracy of scientists and doctors to sell something dangerous to make money.

    Alternative medicine pushers portray vaccines as a conspiracy of scientists and doctors to sell something dangerous to make money.

    It isn’t a surprise that conspiracy theorists flock together.

    Don’t use vaccines, because they work and they are safe. Use this untested snake oil, because you don’t understand how to tell what what is dangerous!

    Don’t use medicines that have been thoroughly tested and demonstrated to both work and be safe. Use this untested snake oil, because you don’t understand how to tell what what is dangerous!

    Evil materialist medicine science!

    .

  2. Lobsterbashon 03 Feb 2017 at 11:58 am

    If I’ve learned anything in the past year, it’s that human beings are phenomenally bad at determining who and what is worth their trust. It seems increasingly likely to me that when humans finally go extinct, however far into the future, it will be because enough of us put unfounded trust into something that clearly had the intent to destroy us.

  3. Pete Aon 03 Feb 2017 at 12:38 pm

    Lobsterbash,

    I share your concerns. However, this new website gives me hope Calling Bullshit has been developed by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West to meet what we see as a major need in higher education nationwide.:
    http://callingbullshit.org/index.html

  4. chikoppion 03 Feb 2017 at 1:17 pm

    [Pete A] Calling Bullshit has been developed by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West to meet what we see as a major need in higher education nationwide.: http://callingbullshit.org/index.html

    +1. I pointed to that in the Topic Suggestions thread.

    One thing the skeptic community could do is to develop an open-source curriculum on critical thinking.

    This would be a robust set of lesson plans and course materials for teachers at multiple grade levels. Given the number of public luminaries associated with the movement, the free curriculum could include a lecture series featuring communicators like Tyson, Nye, and others. It might even incorporate an online certification program for educators, which would be helpful for teachers when pitching the courses to school administration.

    Another angle of support would be stand-alone lesson plans that intersect critical thinking with other course curriculum. How does critical thinking apply to math, history, debate, civics, etc.? By making stand-alone lesson plans available teachers could easily incorporate critical thinking lessons into existing courses.

  5. zorrobanditoon 03 Feb 2017 at 1:20 pm

    First, of course I support vaccination. I am guessing that no one who lived through the polio epidemic here in the 1950’s would say differently. I am suspecting that most anti-vaccers just don’t know what they are fooling with. I remember polio sweeping through my neighborhood, I remember news of kids dying (luckily none of my friends) and suffering long term effects; I remember my mother’s terror. Whatever the risks of the vaccine, no one who was there wants to go back to THAT.

    I am persuaded by the many studies that show no link between vaccination and autism. This evidence cannot be persuasively contradicted.

    At the same time I am troubled by official statements to the effect that there is absolutely NO risk to vaccination. (Or that hint around that this is so.) This is simply untrue. Bad reactions are rare, but they happen. Very bad reactions are exceedingly rare, but they happen too. Some children are gravely harmed. I suppose news of that sort is suppressed because the authorities are afraid of giving support to the anti-vaccers and because they don’t trust us to make intelligent decisions. (Hey, they might be right about that latter one.) But lying is not productive in the end, and it gives aid to fanatics, who can point out that the medical authorities are lying.

    This study is well phrased, and admits that there are indeed risks.

  6. RickKon 03 Feb 2017 at 2:03 pm

    Rogue Medic said: “Alternative medicine pushers portray vaccines as a conspiracy of scientists and doctors to sell something dangerous to make money.”

    “To make money, alternative medicine pushers portray vaccines as a conspiracy of scientists and doctors to sell something dangerous.”

    There, fixed it for you 🙂

  7. Pete Aon 03 Feb 2017 at 2:59 pm

    chikoppi,

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply — I completely agree with you.

  8. Steven Novellaon 03 Feb 2017 at 3:48 pm

    zorro – I am not aware of any official sources that lie about or hide the rare risks of vaccines. This is not suppressed at all, and no one official or informed is lying about it. Sometimes I hear sloppy science communicators, usually who are not doctors, confuse low risk with no risk, but that is the exception.

    That is essentially a non-problem.

  9. TheGorillaon 03 Feb 2017 at 9:02 pm

    “# Lobsterbashon 03 Feb 2017 at 11:58 am
    If I’ve learned anything in the past year, it’s that human beings are phenomenally bad at determining who and what is worth their trust. It seems increasingly likely to me that when humans finally go extinct, however far into the future, it will be because enough of us put unfounded trust into something that clearly had the intent to destroy us.”

    Starts with “t” and ends with “echnology.”

  10. cozyingon 03 Feb 2017 at 10:00 pm

    TheGorilla,

    What technologies are you referring to specifically? Other than a malicious AI. I’m curious.

  11. bachfiendon 03 Feb 2017 at 10:53 pm

    Technology doesn’t have any intent. And technologists don’t have any evil intent. ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’ probably expresses it best. And it’s possibly already happened with the inventors of coal power plants and the internal combustion engine.

  12. TheGorillaon 04 Feb 2017 at 2:24 pm

    Technology has the intent of whichever social framework it exists within, and to say technologists don’t have any evil intent is to give a curious pass to people who design military weapons, for the OBVIOUS example. There’s a reason that, despite the incredible advancements we have made in efficiency and productivity, we are still forced to work long hours and work has infiltrated our home life (thank you, cell phones!). Our society is about indefinite accumulation, and all technological advancement will be put to that end if at all possible.

    cozying,

    Funnily enough, I think malicious AI is ridiculous once you abandon the silly hardware/software brain=mind concept that’s so popular at the moment; any AI is not the unique existential threat that singularity people love to fantasize (and it is a fantasy, pure desire for The End) about.

    I get a certain bubbled perspective because I live in Silicon Valley, but the technology worship here is ridiculous – it will save us, there are no negative effects, it’s our only hope for salvation, etc. As these same people whine about Facebook and Twitter ruining social interaction, of course! It really is the God of our social religious narrative.

  13. cozyingon 04 Feb 2017 at 9:12 pm

    TheGorilla,

    I actually think the singularity is possible. I think Kurzweil exaggerates everything. Transcendent man, documentary does a good job of explaining him.

    But I still think it’s possible. What aspects of a hyper intelligent AI do you disagree with? Clearly AI exists, we have self driving cars and many expert systems. We don’t have sophisticated general AI yet. But I don’t see many problems with it coming into existence. Even if you take the extreme stance along the lines of arguing for the uniqueness of human consciousness. You can’t say that a hyper intelligent system won’t appear that can do everything we can do.

  14. BillyJoe7on 04 Feb 2017 at 9:42 pm

    I think you may have a different definition of “singularity”. TheGorilla is, I think, talking about the an inexorable exponential increase over time. I would have to agree that that is pretty obvious nonsense. It has to start levelling off at some point.

  15. cozyingon 04 Feb 2017 at 10:35 pm

    The singularity (in reference to AI) is about an exponential increase in intelligence in a short amount of time. There’s no reason to assume it won’t happen. Many experts work under the assumption that it’s a logical conclusion of our attempts to make an AI. As soon as we make a general AI as smart as us, it will rewrite itself, make itself more efficient and become more powerful. Repeat that a few times and you have an exponential increase. AI is being tackled from many different angles right now, we can’t even agree what the problem is or what the best approach is. It’s totally possible that an intelligent AI could rewrite itself and solve many of its own problems. You don’t need exponential physical stuff to accompany the first few steps of this process.

  16. Rogue Medicon 05 Feb 2017 at 3:38 pm

    zorrobandito,

    At the same time I am troubled by official statements to the effect that there is absolutely NO risk to vaccination.

    The only people I see portraying vaccines as 100% safe are caricatures of scientists/doctors in anti-vaccine propaganda.

    We do need to improve the critical thinking skills of people, so that they can put the actual risks in perspective.

    One of the problems is that we have forgotten how bad things can be without high levels of vaccination.

    Ironically, it is because of anti-vaxers that we still have to give children the polio vaccines.

    Polio would have been eradicated by now, if not for anti-vaxers.

    Anti-vaxers lack the capacity to understand how beneficial smallpox vaccination has been.

    We never have to give another smallpox vaccination (barring use of smallpox as a weapon), but the protection continues.

    Smallpox was not even close to a safe vaccine, but when you look at the long-term risks over the life of our species, the smallpox vaccine may end up causing the least harm and providing the greatest protection.

    Our species is not good at risk management in the modern world.

    .

  17. TheGorillaon 06 Feb 2017 at 10:56 am

    Cozying,

    I think the thing being overlooked is the assumption that it’s just a certain degree of code complexity – there can be no consciousness without a body; embodiment is foundational to not just experience but cognition. Not to mention AI is task focused, the main project is not the sort of sentience and flexibility underlying concern about malevolent AI.

  18. Bill Openthalton 06 Feb 2017 at 11:23 am

    cozying —

    As soon as we make a general AI as smart as us, it will rewrite itself, make itself more efficient and become more powerful.

    Why would it? It’s not because an AI is as smart as us (whatever that means) that it will have the same motivations. Humans act not because they are intelligent, but because they share the urge to procreate with all living organisms on this planet. Intelligence isn’t motivation, and while we can produce “intelligent” systems because we have developed means to describe and analyse intelligent thought (give we need those faculties to communicate and cooperate with other humans). Our motivations (and generally, our emotions) are not subject to effective analysis (and can barely be described in words), so providing a (computer) system with methods and information to produce self-motivated human-like behaviour is far from obvious.

    You might have noticed that people who spend a lot of time applying their rational (intelligent) mind to their behaviour end up doing almost nothing. That’s exactly what an AI without AE (artificial emotions) would do — nothing.

  19. Pete Aon 06 Feb 2017 at 12:16 pm

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-modifying_code

    The “intent” of, and the bounds placed upon, the self-modifying code is determined before the code is written. Having written self-modifying code, I find it very difficult to understand how such code could eventually ‘learn’ to usurp my intentions and bounds. I can, of course, understand how such code could easily ‘learn’, or be easily fooled by false data, to spiral down into becoming completely useless.

    Power off; wait 10 seconds; power on — if Ctrl-Alt-Delete failed to work!

    Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that by far the largest and most advanced adaptive (self-learning) machine that we have on planet Earth — the Internet — doesn’t have (because it doesn’t need) either an Off switch or a Reset button?

  20. Bill Openthalton 06 Feb 2017 at 6:04 pm

    Pete A —

    Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that by far the largest and most advanced adaptive (self-learning) machine that we have on planet Earth — the Internet — doesn’t have (because it doesn’t need) either an Off switch or a Reset button?

    Its components can be switched off and reset. The “Internet” is not a machine, but a huge number of systems (end-user devices, routers, switches, firewalls, proxies, servers etc.). It is as non-existing as “society”, a mere description of a collection of cooperating entities. The closest one can get to switching off the Internet is to shut down the big, centralised DNS services such as Google’s. You’ll still be able to connect to any system, you’ll just have a very hard time finding its address 🙂 .

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.