Experts warn of vaccine misinformation, call for science-based decisions

With America on the verge of beginning COVID-19 vaccinations, some people may be unwilling to get it. Yet, without vaccinations, the nation is on a trajectory to lose another 200,000 Americans by fall, a half-million in all.

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was the first famous American anti-vaccine proponent right up until the day his four-year-old son died of smallpox.

"And, when that happened, he became a real advocate of the smallpox vaccine," said UC Berkeley Vaccinologist Dr. Lee Riley.

Riley is one of four distinguished physicians KTVU spoke with, all experts in vaccines and the reluctance of some to get them.  Riley says social media allows the most misinformation to be fed and passed on.

"There are enough people in this country and in the world who believe in these kinds of messages that they read on the internet," said Riley.

One example is that vaccines cause autism. Dr. Margaret Liu with the International Society for Vaccines Chairperson flat out rejects the claim.

"It's work that has now been retracted and the person behind it has been censured," she said.

RELATED: US panel endorses widespread use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

It's true that vaccines may have side effects for some, that's why approvals require that the side effects are well known and of little or no risk to the entire population. That includes the most effective vaccines that have been around for generations.

Historical abusive vaccine research, largely aimed at African Americans, also causes some to not get vaccinated.

"It is really important that there be transparency and that there be a basis on science to make all these decisions," said Liu.

But all the doctors KTVU spoke with say modern test standards would not allow for that whatsoever.

Religious beliefs also create a lot of vaccine reluctance. Dr. Liu is a Christian and said, "To me, I view vaccines as something God has helped scientists to get the understanding of the diseases and what can protect people." 

Dr. Riley is a Buddhist and said, "You take the vaccine not just to protect yourself from the disease but to protect the others."

All the doctors said that some people will never vaccinate no matter how good and effective the science is.

"This very small, very vocal anti-vax movement; those are people that can't be reached on any level," said UC Berkeley Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology Emeritus Professor Dr. John Schwartzber.

Nonetheless, three former Presidents and many other well-known people support and want to get vaccinated.

"To see them get a needle stuck in their arm and get a vaccine just like the rest of us, it really sort of equalizes our humanity. You know, disease [and] death are the great equalizers," said Santa Clara University Medical Ethicist Dr. Charles Binkley.

In the last 20 years, the word has had 4 pandemics, indicating that another will occur every five years or less.