COVID-19 crisis shifting views for some ‘anti-vaxxers’ yet others remain steadfast

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The coronavirus crisis is changing the way we live our lives, and it’s possibly changing the minds of people once opposed to vaccines.

“It has changed for some parents,” said Dr. Barbara Pahud, an infectious disease specialist at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

“I would say those parents who were vaccine hesitant are really understanding the impact of vaccine-preventable diseases due to this pandemic,” said Pahud, who includes both patients and her own relatives in that group.

That’s encouraging news for scientists after a study released last year by the American Osteopathic Association showed more than 2 in 5 Americans were concerned about vaccine safety.

But since COVID-19, Pahud said she’s met parents who have changed their minds and are planning to get their children vaccinated.

Vaccine advocate Kelly Watson said she’s also hearing from once-skeptical parents who seem more understanding of why vaccines are necessary.

“They are not running off to get their kids vaccinated right now, but I think however this plays out over the next few months will affect whether they decide or not to vaccinate their children,” Watson said.

Watson said she understands the concerns of the vaccine-hesitant because she was once one of them.

“From a science standpoint, I shouldn’t have been in denial, but I was definitely driven by my fears as a parent,” she said.

Experts say it’s those fears driving the declining rate of vaccinations for measles, which has led to a reoccurrence of a disease once eradicated in the United States.

Pahud said the thousands of death from the coronavirus pale in comparison to what a measles outbreak would look like if there were no vaccine.

“Coronavirus is not – I repeat – is not as transmissible and is not as deadly as measles and look at what is happening,” Pahud said.

But the coronavirus has not convinced everyone of the value of vaccines, including Del Bigtree, a spokesman for the Informed Consent Action Network and the face of many anti-vaxxers.

Bigtree said even if a vaccine existed for the coronavirus, his family would not want it.

“I just happen to know to that I’m healthy. My children are healthy right now. Everyone in my family is perfectly capable of taking care of COVID-19,” he said.

“We will have a common cold, and people will end up in my family being pillars of herd immunity for their lifetime or perhaps for several years.”

Bigtree believes the best way to fight any virus is for everyone to be exposed to the virus – except for the most vulnerable.

Pahud said that’s a deadly gamble.

“You could still die with it, being relatively healthy, so it is kind of like playing Russian Roulette in my opinion,” Pahud said. “I don’t think most of us like to play Russian Roulette because you think you will be lucky five out six chances.”

Pahud said she knows she’ll never convince everyone about the value of vaccines – but living through a pandemic has helped spread the message of how deadly a virus can be when you have no vaccine to fight it.

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