Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Thomas Kienzle reports for the Associated Press on a study which found public health campaigns touting vaccines' effectiveness and debunking the links between autism and other health risks might actually be backfiring, and convincing parents to skip the shots for their kids. 'Corrections of misperceptions about controversial issues like vaccines may be counterproductive in some populations,' says Dr. Brendan Nyhan. 'The best response to false beliefs is not necessarily providing correct information.' In the study, researchers focused on the now-debunked idea that the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (or MMR) caused autism. Surveying 1,759 parents, researchers found that while they were able to teach parents that the vaccine and autism were not linked, parents who were surveyed who had initial reservations about vaccines said they were actually less likely to vaccinate their children after hearing the researchers messages. Researchers looked at four methods designed to counter the myth (PDF) that the MMR vaccine can cause autism. They gave people either information from health authorities about the lack of evidence for a connection, information about the danger of the three diseases the MMR vaccine protects against, pictures of children who had one of those three diseases, or a story about an infant who almost died from measles.
At the study's start, the group of parents who were most opposed to vaccination said that on average, the chance they would vaccinate a future child against MMR was 70 percent. After these parents had been given information that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism, they said, on average, the chance they would vaccinate a future child was only 45 percent — even though they also said they were now less likely to believe the vaccine could cause autism. Vaccination rates are currently high, so it's important that any strategies should focus on retaining these numbers and not raise more concerns, tipping parents who are willing to vaccinate away from doing so. 'We shouldn't put too much weight on the idea that there's some magic message out there that will change people's minds.'"