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Flu shot misbeliefs can be changed with information published in an understandable language delivered from a trusted health professional

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Many Americans hold beliefs about the influenza vaccine that are at odds with today’s scientific evidence.

As an indication of these misbeliefs, a recent study found that 43 percent of Americans, believe that the seasonal flu shot can give you the influenza virus. 

Scientific research strongly suggests that this misbelief is not true, wrote The Conversation.  

That is because today’s flu shots do not contain a live virus, which means, the vaccine itself simply cannot get you sick.

Widespread misinformation about flu vaccine safety is an important public health problem. 

Determining how health professionals can most effectively combat influenza misinformation is a critically important question. 

Looking at the latest research, there are 3 potential tactics to promote the truth about flu shots:

Tactic No. 1: Just the facts 

  • Recent academic studies have shown that presenting survey respondents with facts about vaccine safety can decrease the extent to which survey respondents believe that vaccines are unsafe.
  • But, there’s a catch.
  • People who become less likely to believe misinformation about vaccine safety are not necessarily more likely to get vaccinated, due to something scholars call the “backfire-effect.”   
  • The backfire-effect occurs when efforts to provide people with information which challenges their prior beliefs can actually make them more resistant to taking action based on that information.

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Tactic No. 2: Bust the myths

  • ‘Myth-busting’ is closely tied to the first approach, except that it frequently involves exposing people to a piece of misinformation about the flu vaccine in an effort to discredit it.
  • That of course, is problematic, given that repeating the myth might increase the odds of people to believe it.
  • Therefore, even when “myth-busting” works, the effects might not last a very long time.

Tactic No. 3: ‘If you get vaccinated, I will too … ’ 

  • Another tactic is to appeal to people’s desire to reciprocate.
  • Recent research found that cultures that focus on collective benefits have higher rates of compliance with vaccines.
  • And, communicating the concept of “herd immunity” improves an individual’s willingness to get vaccinated.

Correcting misinformation about the flu vaccines is hard, and the academic literature provides mixed signals about approaches to tackling this problem. 

The best evidence suggests that the most effective way of dealing with misinformation is not spreading it in the first place. 

This means, people often benefit from receiving the right information, at the right time, from a healthcare provider they trust.

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This article is a condensed version of The Conversation article “Countering misinformation about flu vaccine is harder than it seems.’