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Creighton University Study: Anti-vaccine trends best changed through community education

Posted at 6:27 PM, Oct 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-30 19:27:44-04

OMAHA, NEB. (KMTV) — There are concerns when a COVID-19 vaccine is available, if people will get it.

Kevin Estep, PhD, assistant professor of Social Studies at Creighton University and Pierce Greenberg, PhD, also an assistant professor in the department say their findings, recently published in American Sociological Review, surrounding the 2013 measles outbreak in southern California may offer guidance on COVID-19 guidelines.

“Public health experts were blaming that problem on parents who were not vaccinating their kids, specifically saying the problem is they tend to be concentrated in communities,” Estep said.

He said Santa Monica is one of those communities; when they talked to parents they found it's easier for affluent families to choose where they want to live and they tend to choose to live near like-minded people.

“The choice to not vaccinate your kids both attracts parents that are more likely to think in terms of opting out of vaccines and that it’s a safe decision because you are surrounded by children who think and care for their children in similar ways,” Estep said.

Estep said this can be helpful when thinking about public health guidelines like mask wearing and social distancing.

“We would suggest there needs to be high degree of warrant to restrict people’s choices,” Estep said. “It’s much better to work in the area of persuasion. How do we change social norms in such a way you don’t have to require something it’s just an expected part of behavior in this particular social setting?”

In places where people are comfortable opting out of public health recommendations like mask wearing, Estep suggests focusing on changing social pressure and normalizing masks as an approach.

“In those places we would want to increase the perception that there is actually a safety concern for you here. Viruses don’t tend to pay attention to boundaries,” Estep said.

He suggests educating at risk communities as a whole - rather than types of people - may help resolve disputes over individual rights vs public good.