The Washington Post:
You probably heard about the Disneyland measles outbreak last year. One infected person is thought to have visited the theme park, and thanks in part to low immunization rates, 142 people in California and six other states got sick. It wasn’t close to the worst recent measles outbreak in the United States, but because of its origin in the shadow of Cinderella’s castle, it produced a crescendo of media and public concern about the larger problem of childhood vaccination rates, which have dipped slightly in some states. The discussion around vaccine reluctance has been growing for years, amplified by the chorus of celebrities and politicians who’ve weighed in, and the childhood vaccination problem has been the primary focus of public health officials in charge of vaccine programs for more than a decade.
Studies of the psychology of risk perception by Paul Slovic and others have found that we worry much more about risks to kids than risks to adults, and we worry much less about risks with which we’ve grown familiar, such as the regular seasonal flu. What worries us more prompts more widespread and more passionate advocacy, including more media attention. Together those factors raise pressure on the government to respond to what we’re most afraid of, even though what we fear more might not be what threatens us the most.
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