For Immediate Release
That is a phenomena noted in general risk acceptability studies and readily
applies to vaccination, says Ann
Bostrom, a Georgia Institute of Technology associate professor of
She presented research on vaccine risk acceptability February 14 at a
seminar "Public Perception of Vaccination Risks" at the American
Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Seattle.
"People avoid ambiguity," Bostrom said. "They perceive
risks that are unfamiliar as less acceptable than risks that are familiar,
Risk perception and acceptability are also dependent on context - both
personal and societal, she notes. First-hand experience with adverse reactions
to vaccines, for example, affects a person's risk acceptance. Bostrom
cited evidence from collaborative research she and her colleagues will
publish later this year.
Beyond describing the factors that affect individual choices regarding
vaccine risk acceptance, Bostrom also described the sometimes-controversial
public decision-making process on vaccination policy.
"Controversy isn't always a bad thing," she explained. "Conflicts
of interest can be real, and both scientific and policy processes should
be scrutinized. Science, and in particular the science that has enabled
vaccine development, has given us much longer, healthier lives. But engineering
our immune systems is no mean task, and thinking broadly about that bigger
picture is important."
She also notes that individual and public decision-making processes about
vaccines are sometimes at odds. For example, a hypothetical vaccination
policy might be chosen to minimize disease risk to the public as a whole,
while increasing the risk to some small sub-population that is susceptible
to a vaccine risk.
"The ideal of using both analytic and deliberative processes to
reach agreement (not necessarily consensus) on what society should do
is one many hold high," Bostrom said. "The aim is to find ways
of improving both individual and collective welfare. If the risk to some
sensitive sub-populations is high, then a policy that doesn't require
their immunization with that vaccine is, of course, preferable to another
policy, all else equal.
"It's problematic when goals and values in public health appear
to differ from individuals' goals - for example when cost-effectiveness
appears to be driving health policies, whereas parents are only concerned
about the health of their children," she added.
Bostrom drew evidence about risk acceptance from a paper she and her
colleagues wrote on engineered mitigation of earthquake consequences.
In a review of research on the topic, Bostrom suggests that potential
injuries and deaths from earthquake-related building collapse, for example,
are likely to be valued differently depending on factors such as who might
be injured or die, and recent experience.
Like decisions about vaccination, risk-acceptance decisions about earthquake
mitigation are made in complex decision contexts involving multiple stakeholders
with multiple values, Bostrom notes. They require both technical analysis
and deliberation on the differing values and competing interests. "Value
elicitation should influence solution design, and the process of designing
solutions can lead to clearer value articulation," she wrote in the
Bostrom also cited a study in which she and her colleagues examined trust
in information sources about smallpox vaccine or disease. They also studied
participants' behavioral intentions about and mental conceptions of the
controversial vaccine, which has shown the potential for serious, even
fatal, side effects. It is no longer routinely administered in the United
States because the disease has been eliminated worldwide since 1977. But
in 2002, bioterrorism fears prompted a voluntary smallpox vaccination
program for emergency responders and medical personnel, and a mandatory
program for some military personnel.
Bostrom's study compared the survey responses of 24 Georgia Tech students
with those from a recent national survey of more than 1,000 adults conducted
by Harvard University researchers. Bostrom found:
"Despite what has been portrayed in the media as the catastrophic potential of a smallpox bioweapon, in this context, trust seems driven less by any conscious comparison of specific values and more by general, previously determined attitudes toward technology, expertise and government," Bostrom reported.
RESEARCH NEWS & PUBLICATIONS OFFICE
Georgia Institute of Technology
177 North Avenue NW
Atlanta, Georgia 30332 USA
MEDIA RELATIONS CONTACTS: firstname.lastname@example.org
TECHNICAL CONTACT: Ann Bostrom (404-894-9629); E-mail: (email@example.com).
WRITER: Jane Sanders