Professor Brendan Nyhan writes his prescription for the anti-vaccine crusade

March 7, 2019

Everyone has seen it while cruising through social media: anti-vaccine proponents (anti-vaxxers) demonizing immunization as a link to causing autism. Or you may have scrolled past a meme mocking such claims. While social media and the internet proliferate the vaccination debate, arguments often overlook a key driver of the contention.

In his March 6 column in in Upshot for The New York Times entitled “What Really Makes A Difference in Vaccination Rates,” Ford Professor Brendan Nyhan showcases how state governments play a key role in shaping the immunization debate. Although social media augments the dissemination of anti-vaxation sentiment, Nyhan asserts that the “more immediate threat in the United States are the state policies that make it easy to avoid immunization requirements for children entering kindergarten.” In citing findings from Emory University, the codification of “philosophical and religious exemptions…are associated with substantially higher rates of unvaccinated children.”

The solution, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is the elimination of nonmedical exemptions, writes Nyhan. Yet, the debate for elimination of nonmedical exemptions is just as fierce as the arguments on vaccination. Nyhan points out that state legislature discussions in Arizona and Texas often conform to partisan perspectives with lawmakers disapproving of governmental intervention of family decisions.

The vaccination debate, therefore, extends much further into state politics than is often acknowledged. While social media certainly spreads mistruths, Professor Nyhan warns that “misinformation can have a great deal of influence on public health when it has the force of law behind it.”

Click here to read Professor Nyhan full column in The New York Times.

Brendan Nyhan is a professor of public policy at the Ford School. Nyhan also serves as the co-founder of Bright Line Watch and is a 2018 Carnegie Fellow.