Medical Anthropologist Explores 'Vaccine Hesitancy'
February 22, 2019
Distrust of vaccines may be almost as contagious as measles, according to medical anthropologist Elisa Sobo.
More than 100 people have been infected with measles this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Over 50 of those cases have occurred in southwest Washington state and northwest Oregon in an outbreak that led Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency on Jan. 25.
Some public health officials blame the surge of cases on low vaccination rates for this highly infectious disease.
Clark County, Wash. -- the center of the current spate of cases -- has an overall vaccination rate of 78 percent, but some schools in the county have rates lower than 40 percent.
Washington is one of 17 states that allows a parent to send his or her child to public school not completely vaccinated because of a "philosophical or personal objection to the immunization of the child."
What makes some families reluctant to vaccinate their children? Sobo, a professor at San Diego State University, says it may be driven in part by the desire to conform in a community where many parents are skeptical of vaccines.
To better understand how parents decide not to vaccinate, Sobo interviewed families at a school with low vaccination rates in California. She found that skepticism of vaccines was "socially cultivated."
Parents who believe that vaccines are dangerous persuaded other parents to believe the same thing by citing fears of "mainstream medicine" harming their children. Enrolling in the school even seemed to change the beliefs of some parents who had previously followed the state-mandated vaccine schedule: They started to refuse vaccines.
For NPR's interview with medical anthropologist Elisa Sobo, click here.