Why Smart People Make Bad Medical Decisions: Understanding Vaccine Hesitancy


Over 70% of Americans say they have some fear of vaccinations and, for upwards of 40% of parents, this fear is significant enough that they delay or refuse at least one childhood inoculation. Nathanael Johnson could well have been among those parents refusing shots: he grew up in a place suspicious of the medical orthodoxy (one school in his hometown has a pertussis vaccination rate of 18%, and a whooping cough outbreak to go with it). He himself felt sure that there must be some blind spot that the mainstream medical authorities were missing. But the science overwhelmingly favors vaccination.

How do you convince people like him and the neighbors he grew up with? Obviously it’s not enough for a doctor to hand out an information sheet. The key, Mr. Johnson argues, has nothing to do with information and everything to do with relationships – the doctor-patient relationship most importantly. Trust is more valuable than data, though data delivered in the right way can help win trust. This has wide implications for health communication beyond vaccination.



Nathanael Johnson is a journalist who lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter. He has contributed to magazines such as Harper'sNew York, Outside, San Francisco, and Conservation, and to National Public Radio and This American Life. Most recently he wrote his first book: All Natural: A Skeptic's Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier, which is also a quest to have the world's longest subtitle. He worked at a small-town newspaper in Idaho before going to study with Michael Pollan at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Journalism.

April 24, 2013
4:00 p.m. coffee reception; 4:15 p.m. lecture
Event Type:
IHME seminar

Nathanael Johnson

Nathanael Johnson
Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
2301 Fifth Ave., Suite 600, Seattle, WA 98121, USA
Tel: +1.206.897.2800 Fax: +1.206.897.2899
© 2014 University of Washington