Where did we go wrong? Framing vaccination

I’ve had a bit of writer’s block lately, but I’ve learned to take my own advice and just wait it out. And so I did. Then, today, I read Orac’s piece on framing the vaccine problem. It set my mind a-whirring, so I’ve put the coffee on, and I’m setting fingers to keyboard.

I don’t care about the whole “framing science” thing. The systematic evaluation of science communication is too far outside my field. I am stuck being a “empiric framer.”

(Jargon alert! Outside of the blogosphere, my communications are basically one-on-one, doctor and patient. My framing is the equivalent of a RCT n=1 trial—I get a chance to intervene with a single subject and evaluate the response, but I don’t get the chance to study larger sample sizes and do statistical analyses of my work. End jargon)

The vaccine problem is currently an n=1 problem. Individual medical professionals work hard every day to educate individual patients. Decades ago, we didn’t need to convince anyone to get vaccinated—the need was so blindingly obvious that people lined up for their shots and prayed there would be enough to go around. Everyone saw polio, saw measles, saw people becoming disabled or dying from infectious diseases. Everyone watched as our public health improved with the wide-spread administration of vaccines. And now we are the victims of our own success—people don’t fear vaccine-preventable diseases because they no longer know them.

There is something here we in medicine are missing. Clean water and good sewerage are a no-brainer, and no one agitates to “free our water” (although they do with milk—go figure), but people do agitate to “green our vaccines“, whatever-the-hell that means.

So, after our successes at vaccination, we’ve gone soft. We no longer have widespread campaigns to encourage vaccination. And I’m not sure how a more cynical, media-savvy society would react to the old-fashioned approach anyway.

Well, it’s time to get off our asses. I just googled “vaccine education”. The first hit is the Vaccine Education Center, a great resource. A unique resource. And that’s the problem. It shouldn’t be “unique”—there should be “vaccine education centers” everywhere. Most of the other hits on google are for anti-vaccine propaganda sites. We’ve failed.

Time to stop sulking. There is a place for snarky invective. My writing, Orac’s, and others’ has great value (IMHO). I can only judge by commenters, but it seems to attract mostly those who strongly agree, and those who strongly disagree. That’s good, but not good enough. We need to communicate to everyone, and soon. Vaccine-preventable diseases are making a comeback, and I have enough work already. I don’t need more full hospital beds.

A little while ago, I started a Facebook group to explore the idea of communicating about vaccination. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it but I had a few ideas. Now I have more. The antivaccination crowd has a very effective grassroots movement to suck us back into the dark ages. They have an advantage—they are motivated by zeal, whereas most of us who believe in modern medicine are, shall we say, more level-headed and not prone to activism. It’s time to change that.

I propose that folks interested in brainstorming an effective grassroots way to encourage vaccination join the group and discuss amongst themselves strategies. This could be an epic phail, but it just might end up with some benefit. I don’t really care if the facebook group lives or dies, but if it gets people talking and working outside the insular blogosphere (and outside the insular facebook community), that’s good enough for me. I’m not looking for rabid antivax cultists or those on my side who are unable to set aside their snarkiness. I’m looking for people genuinely interested in communicating about vaccination with their friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. I won’t vigorously moderate the group, but if people are being unproductive idiots, I may give them a gentle shove.

Roll up your sleeves, it’s time to get to work.