Effectiveness of vaccines: 5 reasons why anti-vaxxers remain in doubt

Vaccines are a proven method to mitigate the spread of life-threatening contagious diseases. Research shows that vaccinations have saved millions of lives over the past 60 years. Despite this, a significant proportion of “anti-vaxxers” around the world still believe that vaccinations may do more harm than good.

The anti-vax movement stirs plenty of controversy and easily rankles those who believe the position is harmful to society. Though some may point to politics, research shows the reasons that people feel so strongly against vaccines can be quite personal.

StudyFinds has published much research over the years examining the anti-vax position. Here’s a look at six studies that may help explain why people who refuse to take vaccines feel the way they feel.

Anti-vaxxers process info differently, overestimate horror  stories

A study shows that some people stay skeptical about vaccines no matter how helpful they can be. It’s not because of a lack of information. Instead, people focus more on the worst possible outcomes.

Researchers surveyed over 150 people and asked them to guess the chances of death linked to 40 different causes, ranging from cancer to firework accidents. Results show that vaccine skeptics thought their chances of death from a rare event were much higher than they are in reality.

The study suggests that people who are unwilling to get vaccinated actually process information differently than those who choose to get treated. Vaccine skeptics frequently overestimate the chances of a worst-case scenario happening; not just with vaccines but with all events. They might be more easily swayed by anecdotal horror stories, such as a child can have a seizure from getting vaccinated.

The Texas Tech study did not find any link to a skeptic’s education level, but say it’s possible they’re choosing to seek out less reliable information.

READ MORE: Study: People Skeptical Of Vaccines Process Info Differently, Overestimate ‘Horror Stories’

Some parents feel hesitant about childhood vaccines, especially the flu shot

Vaccine hesitancy is becoming so commonplace that the World Health Organization believes the behavior has grown into one of the greatest modern threats to global health. One study sheds further light on the prevalence of “anti-vaxxer” sentiment among parents.

In a survey of 2,176 parents, the study found that nearly 40% either “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” that they’re concerned about serious side effects of standard immunizations and the flu shot. Moreover, 70% of parents “strongly agree” that routine childhood vaccinations are effective. Despite this, just 26% “strongly agree” when only asked about the flu vaccine.

The study also shows that a parent’s education and household income are linked to feelings about vaccines. People with an education level less than a bachelor’s degree and income less than 400% of the federal poverty level were more likely to be hesitant about both routine childhood vaccines and the flu shot.

While it’s true that flu shots are not 100% effective, vaccines do lessen the severity and spread of the disease. Overcoming vaccine hesitancy is a major challenge worldwide, but it is not impossible. The study suggests that educating parents about vaccines and dispelling myths are keys to tackling mixed feelings.

READ MORE: Significant number of parents feel hesitant about childhood vaccines, especially the flu shot 

Distrust a key reason why 45% of adults in survey doubt safety of vaccines

A survey delving into feelings over immunizations find Americans may be more split on the issue than believed, with 45% of adults admitting to harboring some doubt about the safety of vaccines.

In a survey of 2,000 adults, nearly half listed at least one source of doubt over vaccine safety. The most common sources came from online articles (16%), distrust of the pharmaceutical industry (16%), and information from medical experts (12%). This suggests that the widespread negative attitudes towards vaccines has become a phenomenon caused by human psychology and amplified by social media.

Moreover, another factor considered is that, since vaccines have effectively banished many once-common and deadly diseases, people fear possible side effects from the vaccines more than the diseases themselves. Thus, viewing vaccines more as a salient threat than a cure.

Doctors warn that people with doubt only breed more people with doubt. This can cause trouble when certain diseases require up to 95% of the population to be vaccinated in order to eliminate the threat of those diseases.

READ MORE: Surprising Survey Shows 45% Of Americans Doubt Safety Of Vaccines

Large number of parents believe flu vaccines will actually infect their kids with the virus

Millions of parents in America have reservations about their child getting the flu shot, but it has nothing to do with developing other conditions like autism. One survey shows that more than half of parents believe their child can get the flu from the vaccine itself, while a third simply believes it doesn’t work.

The flu vaccine works by exposing the body to a small part of the virus, which allows the body’s white blood cells and other infection responses to adapt to the trio of strains typically found in each shot. The parts of the virus in the vaccine are long-dead cells, so doctors say there’s no risk of contracting the virus from the vaccine itself.

The 2017 flu season was one of the most severe on record in the United States, with 180 child deaths blamed on influenza. The consensus in the medical community is that flu shots are safe for use in adults and children, and that — hands down — it is among the best ways to prevent infection and combat the spread of the virus.

READ MORE: Half Of Parents Worry Flu Shot Makes Children Sick, Third Believe It Doesn’t Work At All

Many anti-vaxxers believe vaccine misinformation on social media

Why do so many people believe that vaccines are unsafe? One study finds the mindset that vaccinations do more harm than good has largely spread thanks to the internet and social media.

The study involved 2,500 adults, focusing on their modern vaccine beliefs. Results show just how widespread vaccine misinformation is on social media, and even worse, how many people are believing what these posts preach. About 20% of all respondents were at least somewhat misinformed when it came to the topic of vaccines.

Moreover, 19% of participants’ levels of vaccine knowledge changed in a big way.  Another 20% of participants wrongly said that it largely makes no difference whether or not parents choose to vaccine their children according to the timelines suggested by doctors. Another 19% even went so far as to say that it is healthier to develop an immunity for a disease by contracting it as opposed to being vaccinated. This rise in false beliefs are directly linked to information gathered and read on social media platforms.

All in all, it’s very clear that doctors and pro-vaccination campaigns need to do a better job in promoting accurate information when it comes to vaccines. Furthermore, if the real issue here is an inherent distrust of the medical industry, health professionals the world over need to consider how to gain some trust back.

READ MORE: New Age Conspiracy: Study Shows Many Believe Vaccine Misinformation On Social Media

It’s always best to consult with your doctor when unsure about a vaccine or medication. Because the internet and social media can be thick with misinformation, turning to “Dr. Google” for health advice is not advised.


  1. I find it interesting that you start what should be a persuasive article with a proclamation of the conclusion you wish to reach. Vaccines are safe. Next, you compound the problem by stating that vaccines have saved millions of lives. Both statements were made with no proof whatsoever. Then you wonder why people don’t believe you. Please show me the research and the underlying data so I can verify your assertions. I remember some years ago when the then-head of the CDC was testifying before Congress. They were asked to show the double-blind placebo trials showing the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. The response was that it was impossible to do such trials. Such trials would require withholding the vaccine from one group of subjects, and since we know the vaccines work, that would be unethical.

    That was the day I became concerned about the safety and effectiveness of all vaccines. Looking as hard as I can, I have been unable to identify any reliable indications of either safety or effectiveness. Please take the time to publish such studies, and you will not need to write such papers again.

    You mentioned the flu shot and how people believe they get the flu from the flu shot. You and I both know that is impossible, but stating that fact does not counter the experience of thousands of people who come down with the flu immediately after getting the flu shot. Why don’t the experts tell the truth that the flu shot focuses the immune system on the strain in the vaccine, increasing the chance that another strain or another virus will affect the patient?

    I believe the provable lies and mischaracterization being told about vaccines daily provide the anti-vaxxers the most ammunition to fight the vaccines. Incidentally, your article makes the anti-vaxxers case better than most I have seem recently

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