Mother and child sit down for candid conversation about vaccine hesitancy

At a time when misinformation is rampant, the NewsHour's Student Reporting Labs is producing a series of conversations called "Moments of Truth" that explore why people believe false information and what causes them to change their minds. This is a story about a mother who hesitated to give her child a common childhood vaccine that fights against measles, mumps and rubella.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    At a time when misinformation is rampant, the "NewsHour"'s Student Reporting Labs is producing a series of conversations called Moments of Truth that explore why people believe false information and what causes them to change their minds.

    Tonight, a story about a mother who hesitated to give her child a common childhood vaccine that fights against measles, mumps and rubella.

  • Mary Christa Smith, Park City, Utah:

    I'm Mary Christa Smith. And I'm a lifelong Utahan and a mom of two wonderful people, Marley, who's here with me today, and Griffin, Marley's younger brother.

  • Marley Smith, Park City, Utah:

    I'm 19 years old and currently attending the University of Utah, double majoring in psychology and gender studies.

    Mom, I know that you read some stuff about vaccines that turned out not to be true. And that led you to, like, vaccinate me later than was expected. So I'm just wondering, like, what went into that?

  • Mary Christa Smith:

    I was so excited to be pregnant with you and nervous and wanted to do the right thing.

    I also was surrounded by other moms who were very convinced that vaccines were dangerous. There had been an article that came out in The Lancet. It was an article by I think his name is Andrew Wakefield about the potential that the MMR vaccine could cause autism in babies.

    Dr. Trahern W. Jones, University of Utah: So, in the 1990s, Andrew Wakefield was a physician who enrolled about 12 children into a study where he made a link between the MMR vaccine and childhood autism.

    Since then, that study has been debunked by numerous sources, and the article itself was retracted. And Wakefield himself has faced censure as a physician, both in the United Kingdom and in the United States.

  • Marley Smith:

    What necessarily helped you, like, come to terms with getting me vaccinated?

  • Mary Christa Smith:

    Your grandparents were really concerned about the fact that you weren't vaccinated. They grew up in a time where their friends had polio, and the miraculous polio vaccine really changed everything for my parents' generation.

    So your grandparents were highly, highly concerned that I was not vaccinating you.

  • Marley Smith:

    What do you think makes people more susceptible to this kind of misinformation?

  • Mary Christa Smith:

    I would say that my desire to want to do the right thing, and to be a really good mom to you, and to make sure that you were healthy certainly was driving a lot of my questioning and concern and a certain amount of cynicism.

    I think that there's mistrust that breeds people's susceptibility. The pediatrician brought out a book and showed me photographs of the consequences for babies your age if they got measles or mumps or rubella. And those images, honestly, are still burned in my brain.

    But I went home and I thought, OK, what are the consequences I can live with? If the worst-case scenario happened on either side, which of those scenarios am I willing to live with? And so I opted to have you vaccinated.

  • Marley Smith:

    I mean, if you could go back and, like, talk to younger you when I was a baby, would you have any specific advice for her, or just what would you say?

  • Mary Christa Smith:

    I'm proud of the way I worked through it, honestly. I'm actually really proud of myself and grateful that I listened to my intuition and that I made those decisions based on facts and made those decisions based on science, but also on what I could live with as a mom personally.

  • Marley Smith:

    Looking back, I understand that it was probably extremely hard to go against your friends and against, like, your other feelings about it. But I just want to say, thank you, and I'm very happy that you did.

  • Mary Christa Smith:

    Thanks for saying that, Mar. I'm glad you feel that way.

  • Marley Smith:

    Yes.

  • Mary Christa Smith:

    I'm glad you're not like, how dare you vaccinate me?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Such a wonderful conversation from our Student Reporting Labs.

    And you can find more Moments of Truth stories on the "NewsHour"'s YouTube channel.

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