Disease outbreak and public opinion

Cacciatore, M. A., Nowak, G., & Evans, N. (2016, March). Disease outbreak and public opinion: How the 2014-15 measles outbreak impacted public perceptions of childhood vaccinations. Paper to be presented at the annual convention of the International Crisis and Risk Communication (ICRC) Conference, Orlando, FL.

Abstract: To many, the 2014-15 measles outbreak was a sobering reminder of the dangers of delaying and declining childhood vaccinations. The outbreak, which originated at a theme park in California, has been linked to more than 140 cases of measles, with the majority of those cases among people who had either not been vaccinated or had been incompletely vaccinated for the disease. This study investigates the impact of the 2014-15 measles outbreak on parental vaccination attitudes. The analysis relies on a pair of public opinion surveys of American parents with at least one child under the age of six (N = 1000 across each survey), collected immediately prior to and in the weeks following the outbreak. Controlling for a variety of variables, we found higher levels of reported confidence in the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccinations in our follow-up data collection. However, this confidence was also accompanied by elevated levels of concern, indicative of a growing ambiguity toward childhood vaccines among American parents. We then examined how different sub-groups in the population reacted to the outbreak. Among the results, we found that parents whose children are not up-to-date with the recommended vaccination schedule became more confident in the efficacy and safety of childhood vaccinations post-outbreak, but that the degree of confidence was dependent on how closely they reported following the topic of vaccines. The implications of these and other findings for vaccination outreach are discussed.

Michael Cacciatore  Glen Nowak  Nathaniel J. Evans 

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