Jennifer Lopez. Jim Carey. Jenny McCarthy. These are just a few of the celebrities who have spoke their minds or done public service announcements about vaccines. But who do parents really listen to, celebrities or their doctors?
Even with all the hype surrounding vaccines and the fear of negative health effects from routine childhood immunizations, most parents still get their information about vaccines from their children's doctors, but some also consider public health officials, other parents, friends and family members, and even anti-vaccine celebrities as sources of childhood health information, a survey found.
Conducted by a team from the University of Michigan, researchers surveyed 1,552 parents of children ages 17 years and younger on topics including parental trust of sources of information about vaccines. The great majority of parents—76 percent—report trusting their child's doctor "a lot." Other sources trusted "a lot" by parents were other healthcare providers (26 percent) and government vaccine experts/officials (23 percent).
Sources for vaccine-safety information that were frequently reported to be trusted "somewhat" included family and friends and parents who believe their child was harmed by a vaccine. Celebrities were trusted "a lot" for vaccine-safety information by only 2 percent of parents, but surprisingly, up to 24 percent say they "somewhat" trusted outspoken celebrities on the topic of immunizations.
"We know from this national study that parents get information about children's vaccines from many sources," says Dr. Gary L. Freed, chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit. "But the source trusted most by parents for vaccine-safety information is their children's doctor, which is consistent with the results of several previous studies."
Researchers also found that moms were more likely than dads to trust vaccine safety information provided by parents who claimed their child was injured by vaccines, celebrities, television shows, and magazines/news articles. Trust also varied by race/ethnicity: white and Hispanic parents were more likely than black parents to trust family and friends; Hispanic parents were more likely than white or black parents to trust celebrities for vaccine-safety information. In fact, the survey revealed, 40 percent of Latino moms and dads indicated that they trusted celebrities at least somewhat when it comes to vaccine information.
"Even if only a fraction of parents receive, believe, and act on misinformation about vaccine safety provided by these different sources, individual children's health and the population's health may suffer because of vaccine preventable illnesses," Dr. Freed says.
This is especially true, Dr. Freed feels, when it comes to placing stock in what celebs have to say on the topic of vaccines, "because celebrities have no [medically trained] expertise in childhood immunizations or infectious disease … There is a danger in the media of putting up celebrities as experts on any topic for which they have an opinion, and giving them a platform to share their opinions that is presented as equal to true experts."