In a new study scientists evaluated a novel way of communicating with the public about vaccine safety. In a randomized experimental study, the authors highlighted the strong degree of consensus among medical scientists about (childhood) vaccine safety in various ways. Results of the study indicated that those who were exposed to the (factual) consensus-treatment(s), which read [90% of medical scientists agree that vaccines are safe and that all parents should be required to vaccinate their children], expressed (a) more awareness of the scientific consensus on the issue, (b) reduced concern about vaccine safety, (c) were less likely to believe in the false vaccine-autism link and (d) were more likely to intent to vaccinate their children and support pro-vaccine policies. Importantly, the authors identified the public's perception of the scientific consensus on vaccine safety as a crucial "gateway" belief.

"Highlighting the fact that medical scientists, as a group, strongly agree on an issue, such as childhood vaccine safety, serves as an important decision-heuristic for people, said lead-researcher Dr. Sander van der Linden, of Princeton University".

"Our research shows that public health officials and clinicians have an important opportunity to communicate the actual medical consensus on this issue to the general public. One of the advantages that describing consensus has over other approaches is that it does not require repeating a so-called "misinformation myth". We know that people are more likely to remember "myths" than "corrective" information, communicating the degree of consensus implicitly informs people about vaccine safety, without having to mention, for example, the vaccine-autism link at all, said lead-researcher Dr. Sander van der Linden, of Princeton University".

The article was published in BMC Public Health, volume 15, issue 1 in the section; health behavior, health promotion and society. The study was conducted by researchers from Princeton and George Mason University, including Drs. Chris Clarke and Edward Maibach. The research was co-funded by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs.