Knowledge = power, right?
When it comes to the subject of vaccines and autism, this seems to be less and less the case.
As reported in the November 4th issue of Time magazine, recent data from the National Committee for Quality Assurance reveals that, among children with health insurance, vaccination rates have been falling. In contrast, vaccination rates in children from ‘lower-income — and often less-educated — families on Medicaid’ have been rising. While 93.5% of children with health insurance received the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) in 2008, 90.6% did in 2009. The drop was from 87.2% to 85.4 for the diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough vaccine (DPT) and, for the chicken pox vaccine, 92% to 90.6%.
Data for the study came from an analysis of 1000 health plans covering 118 million people.
Time magazine highlights a seeming oddity about this data, that it is children from families WITH health insurance for whom vaccination rates are falling, and attributes ‘rumors‘ about a link between vaccines and autism as one likely culprit.
‘What surprised some analysts in the NCQA study was the bump in vaccine rates among lower-income — and often less-educated — families on Medicaid. Typically it is more affluent parents who are the most vigilant about following preventive health measures and poorer families who see that as an unaffordable luxury. But public programs that provide vaccines at low or no cost have apparently helped change that.
‘Wealthier families, meantime, are getting too much of their health advice not from doctors and epidemiologists, but from talk shows, the blogosphere and the rumor mill, all of which are filled with vaccine scare stories. Making things worse is that the kind of folks spreading the tales are precisely the kind we find hardest to ignore.”
It is true. This is the Age of Information and, too, of easy and immediate access to information, thanks not only to the internet but to devices such as cell phones. A parent can be speaking to her child’s pediatrician and whip up a website proclaiming concerns about vaccines and autism, about vaccine injury and much more. Today, it is information (over and above knowledge) = power.
But if that information is from the sort of sources noted by Time (celebrities, talk show personalities, the vast unregulatedness of blogland), we really need to think about what it is that drives ‘educated’ people to make decisions about health care. Is it not possible that we are living in the Age of Misinformation, especially when it comes to issues of health, health care, and science?
Photo of anti-vaccine activists at a Tea Party rally in St. Paul, MN (April 2010) by Fibonacci Blue