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The confusing results parents get when googling vaccines also prompted her to act.
“Parents feel they should look at all the information and come to their own conclusions,” Ernst said. “[But] the amount of information you are supposed to sort through is overwhelming, and very bad information can look legitimate.”
Ernst and Shelby took over the Voices for Vaccine website in 2013 with the idea that it should be a grass roots, parent-run effort. They use the same social-media storytelling methods as antivaccine parents. But the difference is that they have science on their side, including the vast majority of the medical community, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Minnesota Department of Health.
“It has to be about parents speaking out, but it has to have science in the background,” Ernst said.
One of their most read posts is from a British mother who writes about growing up in an idyllic farm setting unvaccinated. Her parents restricted sugar and food additives and fed her organic homegrown vegetables and raw milk, she said. She contracted measles, mumps, rubella, a type of viral meningitis, whooping cough and chickenpox.
“If you leave your children unvaccinated, they will get sick,” Ernst said.
Dr. Anne Edwards, chair of pediatrics at Park Nicollet, said occasionally parents come in and decline vaccines.
“My first question is, ‘Tell me more. Help me understand,’ ” Edwards said. “Every parent, their goal is to keep their children healthy. I am able to answer a lot of questions. Many times we do come to an agreement to vaccinate.”
Stinchfield said misinformation about the link between vaccines and autism has been the most difficult to dispel. The study that linked them has been discredited, but fear lingers.
“It was hard to break the fear,” she said. “We can confidently say there is no relationship between vaccines and autism.”
Stinchfield compares vaccine laws to car-seat and traffic laws.
“Our newborns need to ride in a car seat,” she said. “We have laws in place to make sure they are safe. We don’t see people opt out of that.
“I feel the same way about vaccines,” she said. “These laws are in place to protect.”
Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804