How Should We Use Evidence to Address Misconceptions About Healthcare?

Whenever a scientifically sound systematic review is published that addresses some commonly held misconception about healthcare, healthcare providers could be forgiven for thinking that that review signals the end of their difficulties arising from addressing that particular misconception. The idea that some element of the administration of vaccines to children is associated with the development of autism spectrum disorder is not a new idea, and it’s an idea that has shifted over time as individual elements have been ruled out culminating in systematic reviews like this one in Vaccine dismissing any link between the development of autism spectrum disorder and the administration of vaccines.

For us, it is over. However, for others, it might not be. Studies like this one have found that the response to scientific evidence used to dispel misconceptions about vaccines and the development of autism spectrum disorder is not always positive and can frequently be counterintuitive. While the evidence used in that study is not nearly as comprehensive as the evidence presented in the article linked initially, it illustrates how parents might search for other reasons to validate their belief that the administration of vaccines could be harmful to their children.

It’s important to understand that these beliefs are usually generated by their experiences or by the experiences of those close to them. As a consequence, impersonal, scientific evidence will rarely satisfy their concerns. Thus, it’s important to listen and attempt to address their concerns thoughtfully. Their specific objection to a vaccine or element of a vaccine may simply be something they have found to validate a concern that they might have, and while there might be evidence to dismiss their objection, that evidence does nothing to address their underlying concern.

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