Guide to Vaccine Advocacy & Education

How you can help stop the spread of misinformation and disease through peer education, pro-immunization careers, and community activism.

The World Health Organization identified vaccine hesitancy as one of the top-10 global health threats of 2019. Cases of measles jumped 30% between 2016 and 2017 due to lower vaccination coverage. First-world countries like the United States, which had previously eradicated measles, are seeing a resurgence in outbreaks due in large part to misinformation spread by a growing movement of vaccine deniers, or anti-vaxxers. The truth is that immunizations prevent 2 to 3 million deaths each year and need to be defended. So, how can you join the fight for vaccines? There are many ways to do your part, from educating friends who are scared the MMR vaccination will make their child autistic, to volunteering at local immunization drives, to dedicating your life’s work to disease prevention in a public health or medical career. See how you can take action, make a difference, and become a champion for vaccines.

How to Have Productive Conversations with Anti-Vaxxers & Vaccine Hesitant Parents

Most of us know at least someone who is suspicious of vaccines, maybe even a relative or close friend. Doctors and medical professionals see many patients who are wary of vaccinations as well. How do we productively convince them that not getting vaccinations themselves or for their kids is the real danger? It can feel overwhelming to counter the sheer amount of misinformation out there today, but several effective methods exist. Take a look at some of the following strategies for talking to and educating anti-vaxxers and vaccine hesitant parents.

Be empathetic, not patronizing.

When you have such a strong belief in the importance of vaccinations, it can be all too easy to harshly judge others who do not see things your way. This approach rarely leads to changed minds, however, making it important for you to understand the underlying reasons why some people have become fearful of vaccines.

Rather than preaching about the benefits of immunizations, try to establish yourself as a non-judgmental, trusted resource for gathering factual information and sharing concerns. At the end of the day people want to do what’s best for their health and the health of their children. You can support that journey with the right approach.

Show real stories of the risks of not vaccinating.

Many of the hesitations surrounding vaccinations originate from false perceptions and misinformation alongside fearmongering. Rather than playing into this cyclical pattern of mythmaking, try to highlight some of the actual threats resulting from not vaccinating.

A 2015 study by a team of psychologists from UCLA and the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign found that showing vaccine skeptics research that proves no link between vaccines and autism did nothing to change beliefs, but sharing pictures and descriptions of the diseases vaccines protect against did.

 Dispel common myths and fears about vaccines.

One of the reasons for the increased awareness of and appreciation for vaccines is that so many misperceptions and falsehoods surround them. Here are some of the most popular myths (and the actual facts) to share with anti-vaxxers or vaccine-hesitant parents.

Myth #1

Vaccines cause autism.

Reality:

While it’s true that autism is typically diagnosed around the same time as vaccines such as MMR are given, several comprehensive and large studies found no causality between the two. Factors contributing to autism diagnoses include genetics, metabolic issues, exposure to toxins, and issues around viral infections.

Myth #2

Many of the diseases vaccinated against in childhood are a normal part of growing up and don’t require immunization.

Reality:

Nearly 230,000 people contract influenza and are hospitalized each year, with approximately 10 percent of those patients being children. Approximately 36,000 of those people die from the disease each year. Vaccinations help the body develop an immunity to the infection and lessen the effects of the disease.

Myth #3

Lots of kids around my child already had their vaccinations, making it safe for her/him to not be immunized.

Reality:

While herd or community immunity is an important part of reducing the outbreak of disease, you cannot depend on this system to keep your child safe. This is especially true when a group of parents take on such a mentality then send their children to school assuming others will protect them. Herd immunity only works when the vast majority of individuals have been vaccinated.

Myth #4

Vaccinations against diseases like measles and whooping cough are no longer needed because these diseases don’t really exist anymore.

Reality:

As evidenced by several high-profile measles outbreaks in 2019, this line of thinking is patently flawed. Because more and more parents and individuals have refrained from getting the vaccination, incidents of outbreak are on the rise. These diseases only disappeared in the first place due to widespread immunization against them.

Myth #5

The ingredient Thimerosal, used to preserve vaccines, can give me or my child mercury poisoning.

Reality:

While Thimerosal does contain a mercury compound known as ethylmercury, this is not the same as methylmercury, the compound commonly associated with mercury poisoning. Thimerosal is only used in multi-dose vials, none of which are among recommended childhood vaccines.

Myth #6

Infants’ immune systems can be overwhelmed when giving multiple vaccines at once.

Reality:

No studies have found this to be true because vaccines do not prevent an infant’s immune system from responding. Using an alternative schedule or spacing out vaccines results in more shots, more visits to a clinic, and an increased risk of children developing fears around seeing doctors.

Myth #7

Babies have to be aborted to produce vaccines.

Reality:

Absolutely false. While some vaccines do require human cell culture to grow, these cell lines were developed from two legally aborted fetuses from the 1960s. The abortions did not occur in order for the cells to be harvested and these same cell lines are still in use. No new fetal tissue needs to be attained.

Myth #8

My child is protected from diseases because I’m breastfeeding.

Reality:

While breastfeeding does protect against some infections, it is not a substitute for vaccinating. Breastfeeding temporarily protects against some respiratory and ear infections but can be overridden by exposure to large amounts of germs.

Sources: World Health Organization ; American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology ; Canadian Pediatric Society

Explain what’s really in vaccines and how they work within the body.

Understanding the basic science behind vaccinations is important in becoming a pro-vaccine advocate and educating others. While you don’t need to comprehend advanced details, having a firm grasp of common ingredients, their purposes, and why they are safe can go a long way.

Ingredient Type Purpose Example Why It’s Safe
Antigens Introducing miniscule amounts of weakened or dead germs help our bodies familiarize themselves with infections and learn how to fight against them more effectively and efficiently. Bacteria, protozoa, certain proteins Antigens help bodies recognize the disease and fight against it without actually causing a person to contract an illness.
Adjuvants Added to some vaccines, these substances help our bodies produce a more robust response when a vaccine is given and helps boost immunity levels. Aluminum Adjuvants have been safely used in vaccines for more than seven decades with no issues.
Preservatives Just as preservatives are used in food, vaccine preservatives help fight against the introduction of bacteria, fungi, and general germs. Thimerosal Only trace amounts of preservatives are used and no thimerosal is used in children’s vaccines.
Stabilizers Vaccine stabilizers steady active ingredients so they don’t evolve or lose potency due to temperature shifts or movement. Sugar, gelatin Stabilizers used in vaccines are similar to those used in foods and pose no threat of harm.
Cell culture material These materials are used to grow the antigens used in vaccine production Egg proteins Cell culture materials such as eggs are harmless in nature and pose no threats. Individuals with severe egg allergies should talk with their doctor before getting a flu shot or yellow fever vaccine. There are special flu vaccines for people with severe egg allergies.
Antibiotics Functioning somewhat like preservatives, antibiotics work to keep vaccines from growing germs and/or bacteria Neomycin Antibiotics are used to prevent bacteria, but parents should be aware that children can be allergic to some antibiotics so they should speak with their pediatrician first.
Inactivating ingredients Keep vaccine safe by weakening or killing viruses, bacteria, or toxins. Formaldehyde Formaldehyde is produced naturally in the human body and helps produce energy by creating amino acids. It’s diluted during the vaccine production process and the concentration in vaccines is far less than what the body naturally produces.

Sources: Vaccines.gov; FDA.gov, CDC.gov

Remind them why vaccines matter.

One of the most powerful steps you can take in educating others is to remind them why vaccines are so important in keeping our community – and world – safe. Each year, vaccines save the lives of between two and three million children from preventable diseases. Herd immunity helps ensure diseases such as measles, pertussis, and polio keep from spreading, but it’s only effective when the majority of a group has received their immunizations.

As countless studies have shown, vaccines are safe and effective. Except in rare cases of extenuating medical issues (e.g., allergies, compromised immune systems), vaccines can be safely used by anyone to protect against myriad illnesses.

Be respectful of legal exemptions for not vaccinating, even if you don’t agree.

Many states allow medical, religious, and/or philosophical exemptions for vaccines. Currently 50 states allow medical exemptions for children with compromised immune systems, allergic reactions to vaccine ingredients, or adverse reactions. Forty-eight states allow religious exemptions for individuals who can demonstrate membership in a religious sect that disagrees with immunizations. Twenty states allow parents with personal/philosophical beliefs to withhold their children. While you may not agree with some of these exemptions, it’s important to be respectful.

Encourage them to get back on track.

If you learn that a friend, family member, or someone else is behind on their immunization schedule, encourage them to get back on track rather than shaming them. Share the following CDC Vaccination Catchup Schedule to get them started.

Public Health & Medical Careers Where You Can Champion Vaccines

Ready to make a career out of advocating for vaccines and make a positive difference every day? Regardless of your professional interests, there are plenty of opportunities– from direct patient care positions to jobs in scientific research, community outreach, public policy, and beyond. Some pro-vaccine careers require only a high school diploma while others require a doctorate, providing options at every educational level. We highlight just a few of the possible career paths in this section.

Vaccine Researcher

Vaccine researchers address new epidemics and outbreaks by researching and developing immunizations to help curb and/or eliminate emerging illnesses. They analyze diseased cells and use these in developing inoculations that are safe for the public.

Where You’ll Work:

Vaccine researchers often work in laboratories or offices belonging to pharmaceutical companies, life science organizations, universities, hospitals, or medical manufacturing companies.

What It Takes to Get There:

Many vaccine researchers possess a Ph.D. in biology, chemistry, or another related science topic. Research assistants may only need a bachelor’s degree in these fields to qualify. Researchers working in labs do not typically need a license, but those who want to conduct clinical trials do.

How Much You Can Make:

Median pay for medical scientists in 2018 topped $84,810 while those in the top earners brought home in excess of $156,980. Meanwhile

Epidemiologist

Community Health Educator

Community Outreach Coordinator

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

Immunologist

Biostatistician

Public Health Analyst

Public Health Lobbyist

Pathologist Assistant

Public Health Informatics Specialist

Fundraising Manager

Where to Find Pro-Vaccine Employers

If working for an employer whose core tenets support the promotion and advancement of immunizations, look no further than the federal agencies, nonprofits, and private corporations highlighted below.

CDC

U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC)

The CDC serves as an impartial and science-backed government agency that does much to conduct and publicize research, dispel factual inaccuracies, and educate citizens on vaccination and immunization news. Positions exist for researchers, health educators, data analysts, and immunologists, amongst others.

WHO

World Health Organization (WHO)

WHO operates as an international education and advocacy group on myriad health issues, including the importance of vaccinations. The group organizes the World Immunization Week and develops the Global Vaccine Action Plan, among other activities. It also provides a wide range of internships and job opportunities.

ARC

American Red Cross

In addition to providing access to vaccinations the world over, the American Red Cross created the Measles & Rubella Initiative and works to educate populations on the benefits of vaccinations. Jobs include positions as biostatisticians, vaccine researchers, public health informatics specialists, and more.

Merck

Merck

Merck currently provides eight vaccines which cover diseases such as MMR, human papillomavirus, Ebola Zaire, and Hepatitis B, among others. Plenty of research and development positions exist, as do roles concerned with public health informatics, immunology, and lobbying.

Pfizer

Pfizer

Another pharmaceutical corporation, Pfizer manufactures several vaccines and is currently focusing its R&D efforts on vaccines for pneumococcal and meningococcal diseases. The group emphasizes providing global impact by offering immunizations to developing countries the world over.

UNICEF

UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund works in more than 190 countries to support children and adolescents through a variety of programs, including inoculations. The group is currently working to eradicate polio and develop immunization programs in more than 150 countries. Both domestic and global roles are available.

DWB

Doctors Without Borders

Operating as an international medical humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders seeks to help those who are most in need. DWB provides emergency response during outbreaks, introduces new vaccines to impoverished populations, books basic preventive vaccine programs, and works to prevent outbreaks across the lifespan.

TCH

Texas Children’s Hospital

The Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research serves as a resource for specialists, immunologists, practitioners, and researchers by providing an expanded set of information about the benefits of immunization. Individuals working at this center possess skills in vaccine research, infectious diseases, pediatrics, and adolescent medicine.

IVAC

International Vaccine Access Center

Operating out of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, IVAC works to accelerate access to life-saving vaccines across the globe while also providing valuable research on efficacy. The group currently works in 38 countries and seeks immunization professionals across the spectrum who want to work in domestic and global posts.

NFID

National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

The NFID focuses on three areas: infectious diseases, immunization, and antibiotic resistance. Users can find valuable insight and research, information on the rise of measles and pneumococcal diseases, reports, and other services.

7 Simple Ways to Advocate for Vaccinations in Your Community and Beyond

If you want to advocate for vaccinations but don’t have a ton of time, there are still plenty of ways to pitch in and make a difference. Here are 10 ideas to get you started.

1

Join the discussion and make your voice heard on social media.

Whether that means posting a selfie after getting your annual flu shot or sharing easy-to-digest graphs about the effectiveness of vaccinations, use your online presence to bring awareness to the importance (and ease!) of keeping up with your immunization schedule.

2

Contact your legislators.

3

Speak to other parents about the benefits of immunizations.

4

Hold an immunization information session at their daycare/school.

5

Donate/raise money for an organization working to increase vaccination rates.

6

Become a Shot@Life Champion.

7

Arrange an event for National Immunization Awareness Month.

Additional Pro-Vaccine Resources

Many resources exist to help spread the word about the importance of vaccines, educate skeptics, and stay up-to-date on industry news.