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Trust a better tool than shaming when it comes to changing anti-vaccine views, says OU professor

this is a picture of someone getting a shot
Rido / Adobe Stock
One of the first things to think about is how many different reasons these parents have, and many different communities that they're coming from," said Mark Navin.


The measles outbreak continues, and the number of cases in Michighan is climbing. There are now 41 cases confirmed to date in Oakland, Wayne, and Washtenaw Counties.

Doctors and public health officials are grappling with how to best deal with this growing public health crisis, including how they should talk to parents who refuse or delay vaccinations. 

Mark Navin, associate professor of philosophy at Oakland University, has done extensive research on vaccine refusal and the public health response to it. He joins Stateside to explain why parents refuse vaccines for their children, and why coercive policies like fines and bans may be counterproductive in the long run.

Navin says that it's important to not rely on our gut stereotypes of who chooses not to vaccinate when we talk about how we should address the issue. He notes that outbreaks, like the one in Oakland County, aren't specific to any one community or culture.

"One way to start thinking about vaccine refusal, and understanding where it comes from, is understanding it comes from a lot of different places, a lot of different values, a lot of different kinds of beliefs," he said. 

Navin says that measures, like one in parts of Brooklyn, New York that fines people $1,000 for refusing to vaccinate themselves or their children, might be effective in the short-term. But that kind of coercion runs the risk of creating more distrust of doctors and public health officials within a community in the long run.

If you want to be effective at changing minds, Navin explains, "shaming, stigmatizing, criminalizing people doesn't change minds," rather, "relationship building, communication, patience, and trust, these things change minds."

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Katie Raymond. 

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