The European region office of the World Health Organization (WHO) recently published a useful 52-page guide for individuals confronted by a vaccine denier in a public situation. The guide, “How to respond to vocal vaccine deniers in public” is intended for health authorities; however, others may also benefit from some of the information presented.

The guide presents two important rules of thumb:

  • Remember that the public, not the individual denier, is your audience — Since a vaccine denier typically “has a very negative attitude towards vaccination and is not open to a change of mind no matter what the evidence says,” you are not going to change the person’s mind. However, in trying to do so, you could unintentionally cause concern among others in the audience. Therefore, you should respond to them directly.
  • Respond by pointing out the technique being used in the argument and correct the inaccuracy — Rather than repeating the myth, you should explain the type of argument being made and state the correct information.

This approach will inform the audience, ultimately making them more resilient to misinformation. The guide summarizes the approach in a three-step process:

  • Identify the technique the denier is relying on in the argument.
  • Identify the topic of vaccine concern.
  • Respond with the key messages.

The Logical Fallacies Q&A shared in the May 2018 Vaccine Update can be helpful in the first step of this process.

Additional sections of the guide address the audience, speaker and argument before presenting information related to interview conditions, religious beliefs, figuring out whether or not to participate in a public discussion, and fake news. Some sections have useful lists and summaries. For example, the speaker section includes a series of verbal and nonverbal tips for becoming a good speaker, and the section about deciding to participate in a public discussion includes a flow chart.

Give it a try!

See if you can identify the technique, topic and key message in the following examples presented in the guide:

Example 1. “This paper proves that 30% of people who are vaccinated against measles are not protected against the virus.”

Example 2. “I am not against vaccination, but I will not recommend it to anyone until it is 100% safe.”

Example 3. “Vaccines are unnatural and therefore unhealthy for a natural organism like the human being.”

Check your answers on page 30 of 53 in the PDF.

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.