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Heidi Larson: The global picture of the ‘vaccine confidence gap’

Ukrainian pediatrician Fyodor Lapiy examines a child before administering him a combined vaccine against diphtheria, whopping cough and tetanus in a Children's Hospital. AP 2013

For today’s Humanosphere podcast, we’re talking with Heidi Larson, a professor of anthropology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who studies, among other things, public trust (and mistrust) of vaccines.

Heidi LarsonIn the U.S., we’re dealing with a measles outbreak that began in Disneyland, an epicenter of cultural significance that has captured widespread media attention. As we reported on earlier in Humanosphere, this outbreak appears to some as if it may have altered the public dialogue away from the “false equivalency” fallacy once so common in the media to a more evidence-based debate on how to best strike the balance between protecting community health and allowing for proper freedoms of choice.

Larson, who for many years worked on immunization at UNICEF and later chaired the advocacy program for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization initiative launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation some 15 years ago, agrees the media narrative in the U.S. seems to have changed.

But changing public perception and attitudes toward vaccination require much deeper social, cultural and political changes to really take root. She and a team of experts have been studying the ‘confidence gap’ in vaccines worldwide. What they have discovered, and are still discovering, shows that this is a very nuanced and complex issue that will likely require more than either just fear-based or evidence-based arguments to resolve.

Prior to our fascinating chat with Larson, as usual, Tom Paulson and I discuss some of the news highlights in the Humanosphere this week including how climate change may put as at more risk of disease,  how little progress the world has made in advancing the empowerment of women and, finally, a powerful new data visualization post on the stunning level of violence in El Salvador.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.