IN A WORLD OF POST-TRUTH politics, more and more parents are concerned that the health risks of vaccines outweigh their benefits. Too many people believe, for instance, that the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine could be linked with autism, despite numerous scientific studies to the contrary. A growing anti-vaccine movement, in which parents opt out of vaccinations for their children, has led to dangerous outbreaks of whooping cough, measles and other preventable diseases.
To counter misleading and outright false information on vaccines, health experts must find better ways to explain to the public why we know that vaccines are relatively safe and helpful to society.
At present, pediatricians don’t bring up the topic of childhood immunizations until the first week after childbirth. That’s the worst possible time for new parents, who have to worry about keeping their baby safe and well-fed, eliminating any potential dangers in the home and navigating opinionated grandparents—all while being sleep-deprived. In addition, health care systems often do not reimburse pediatricians adequately for lengthy consultations, which means that well-child visits are frequently too brief to get all questions answered. Research by the Vienna Vaccine Safety Initiative (ViVI) international think tank and the School of Design Thinking in Potsdam, Germany, confirms that the current timing of such talks reduces their effectiveness.
A better time for doctors to