Covering Vaccine Hesitancy

France countered a lackadaisical attitude toward vaccines by passing a law in 2017 making immunization of children mandatory.

The sledgehammer approach followed a drop in immunizations after a public controversy about a flu vaccine shortage in 2009 and after a measles outbreak in 2011. The law applies to all children under 2 years old and eliminated all exemptions.

Marie-Paule Kieny, director of research at Inserm (the French equivalent of the U.S. National Institutes of Health), used France as a case study to help journalists better understand how vaccine hesitancy can emerge.

“We have reversed the tide of low coverage,” Kieny said.

If the anti-vaxxers held sway in an educated country like France, what can happen in less-developed countries? The share of people who believe vaccines are safe is lowest in the former Soviet Union states (Ukraine being the prime example).

Kieny said the difference is trust in government (and thus science) and also education. And if people don’t believe the government, they are overwhelmingly willing to trust doctors and nurses, who are the primary source of trusted health information.

Kieny cautioned National Press Foundation fellows about the effect of “falsely balanced reporting.”

“It’s good to present two sides of the coin. But if you present it to give the same value to the two sides, you are likely to drive readers in one direction,” she said.

Kieny said the health community is still recovering from the bad autism-vaccine study published by unsuspecting journalists two decades ago. One result was the rise of anti-vaxxers who have nurtured fear of adverse effects and recruited celebrities to their cause.

She said health officials can counter the vaccine hesitancy movement by making immunizations compulsory, engaging with journalists to relay positive messages about vaccines, and educating health professionals about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

This program is funded by Fondation Ipsen and under the aegis of the Fondation de France. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

Marie-Paule Kieny
Director of research, Inserm
More Presentations
Help Make Good Journalists Better
Donate to the National Press Foundation to help us keep journalists informed on the issues that matter most.
You might also like
Addressing Health Inequalities
Confidence in Scientists
Developing Vaccines
Global Health Strategies
Critical Thinking About Research
How Vaccines are Developed
New Thinking on Pain
Scientific Spin
Scientific Stats 101
Single Cell Technology
Studying Hate
The Health Impact of Torture
The Science of Science Communication
Understanding Global Health Inequalities
When Science Is Bad