As a parent, it’s natural to do your homework before getting your kids up to date on their vaccinations. The problem? With so many websites posting conflicting information, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Fortunately, it’s easy to decide which sites to trust if you know a few simple tricks. Here are four signs a website is spreading unreliable immunization information.
1. It Links Vaccines to Autism
Do vaccines cause autism? It’s a common fear among parents, and a common claim on untrustworthy vaccination websites. But study after study has shown that there is simply no truth to this claim. If a website claims there is any link between vaccines and autism, look elsewhere for your facts.
2. It Misinterprets Science
Many untrustworthy vaccination sites do rely on credible, peer-reviewed studies for their information, but then they misinterpret the results to come to inaccurate conclusions. Unfortunately, if you’re not familiar with the study at hand, there’s no quick way to spot this. If something seems fishy (linking vaccines to autism, for example), do a little digging. Google the study and see what other publications have to say about it.
3. It Confuses Correlation and Causation
It’s understood in the scientific community that correlation does not imply causation—just because two things happen at the same time doesn’t mean one is causing the other. So while it’s true that vaccination rates and autism rates have risen at the same time, that does not prove that vaccines are causing autism or are linked in any way. There are many reasons for two things to correspond, but causal relationships are demonstrated through long-term and large-scale research and analysis, involving years, large numbers of people and many studies.
4. It Offers Anecdotes as Proof
Personal stories of children claimed to be harmed by vaccinations can be powerful, engaging, and compelling. What they are not is scientific. Again, the safety of vaccinations has been shown repeatedly through large-scale controlled scientific studies. Vaccine reactions are monitored and studied very closely, and while it’s possible for severe allergic reactions to occur after vaccination, the odds of them happening are less than 1 in 1 million — so rare that it’s difficult to tell whether the vaccine is actually the cause. Stories of these reactions — while heartbreaking — are not the norm. Be particularly wary of stories with vague symptoms or a laundry-list of complaints claiming to be attributed to vaccination, as there likely is some other causal factors at play.
An easy way to know you are getting correct information? Read our roundups of trustworthy Facebook and Twitter accounts to follow, and start your research there.