Why do so many Americans fear Ebola, but reject vaccines?

| | March 20, 2015

Sitting and talking about the 10,000 people so-far killed by Ebola hemorrhagic fever in West Africa, it's easy to feel impotent. The scope and nature of the problems that fed the outbreak are the result of disparities so vast they border on abstraction. But this morning, at an Atlantic Live event five blocks south of that commercial corridor, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, and I sat and talked—about how this happened, and about the complex psychology inherent to preventing the spread of infectious diseases.

In a country where parents are willfully exposing their children to the potential for highly contagious, even lethal infections, is it realistic to expect Americans to invest in preventing outbreaks on the other side of the world? The central question is how to get people to care about infectious disease beyond one's own near-term likelihood of contracting something. How do you balance an appropriate level of concern, enough to inspire necessary support for preparedness, without causing panic?

Fauci is presently caring for a man who is in critical condition, hospitalized at the specialized clinical studies unit National Institutes of Health after contracting Ebola during his work in Sierra Leone. There is no cure for the disease, but the odds of surviving are much greater when you're in a place that can keep refilling you with blood and pumping air into your lungs after your body stops doing so on its own.

"This patient, without a doubt, had he [remained] in West Africa, he would be dead now," Fauci said. "There's no doubt about that." In the United States people can at least sometimes be kept alive, if unconscious, as the disease runs its course. Elsewhere it is essentially a death sentence, the notion of which made the virus so scary to many Americans, even as about half of them forewent influenza vaccines in 2014 and more than 100 children died of the flu.

Read full, original article: Infectious Psychology


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