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Social imitation dynamics of vaccination can exhibit hysteresis. This figure illustrates a hysteresis loop in relation to outbreaks of measles and other childhood diseases in Europe and North America. Credit: Feng Fu and Xingru Chen.
Why is it so challenging to increase the number of people who get vaccinated? How does popular resistance to vaccination remain strong even as preventable diseases make a comeback?
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A new study from Dartmouth College shows that past problems with vaccines can cause a phenomenon known as hysteresis, creating a negative history that stiffens public resolve against vaccination. The finding explains why it is so hard to increase uptake even when overwhelming evidence indicates that vaccines are safe and beneficial.
A hysteresis loop causes the impact of a force to be observed even after the force itself has been eliminated. It's why unemployment rates can sometimes remain high in a recovering economy. It's why physical objects resist returning to their original state after being acted on by an outside force. And, according to the Dartmouth research, it's why the public resists vaccination campaigns for ailments like the common flu.
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"Given all the benefits of vaccination, it's been a struggle to understand why vaccination rates can remain stubbornly low," said Feng Fu, an assistant professor of mathematics at Dartmouth College. "History matters, and we now know that hysteresis is part of the answer."
The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first study to demonstrate that hysteresis can impact public health.
People - Safety - Effectiveness - Vaccine - Associations
"Once people question the safety or effectiveness of a vaccine, it can be very difficult to get them to move beyond those negative associations. Hysteresis is a powerful force that is difficult to break at a societal level," said Fu, who led the research team.
Low vaccine compliance is a public health issue that can cause...
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