While New Mexico’s percentage of fully vaccinated sits at 64.5% for people 18 and older, there has been a drop off in the number of people receiving vaccinations. Vaccine hesitancy is often cited as the main reason. A new documentary, "Vaccination From The Misinformation Virus," looks to address the effectiveness of vaccines and why some are hesitant to take them. Chris Schueler, the director and producer of the documentary, says this project began in 2017, long before the coronavirus pandemic.
CHRIS SCHUELER: We had worked on a project on childhood obesity and an infectious disease doctor at University of Mexico Hospital, Dr. Walter Dehority, took me to lunch and said, 'You know, our vaccination rates are down all over the country childhood vaccinations, in particular, flu vaccines, shingles vaccines.' I said, 'Why do you think that is?' And he said, 'There's a couple things. One is the misinformation that's out there on the internet. One is people just don't take them seriously anymore.' I really thought there was going to be a blanket reason. That wasn't the case. We set out then to try to lay out information in a way that was not right or left in a way that was honest, that was truthful. We had four years to find the very best experts and people who had studied their entire lives in these fields. And we wanted to make sure that they were people from every community in the country.
KUNM: When we look at history, there's been a slow push against mandatory vaccination since the 60's. Historian Elena Conis wrote in 2014 that there was overwhelming support for the first polio vaccine in 1954. Then as modern vaccination era as it emerged, more and more people began to resist vaccinations resulting in the establishment of laws that required vaccinations for schoolchildren. How is that growing skepticism of the past 50 years influencing the stance of some people today?
SCHUELER: Measles came back and we have that in the show in the 2014 outbreak at Disneyland because parents have forgotten what measles were. They haven't seen these things. So it makes sense to me in a bizarre way, that that pushback that you mentioned historically, that has picked up steam, happened because we've wiped out smallpox. 300 million died of smallpox, they found a vaccine, and we have wiped out smallpox. It doesn't exist anymore.
KUNM: In the 2000s there was misinformation about vaccines, which falsely claimed vaccines were related to development of autism in children. The retraction of that study didn't seem to really quiet the skeptics. How can your documentary ameliorate any worries someone may have about receiving any type of vaccine?
SCHUELER: That is one of the reasons we did this documentary was that very thing. We researched that, studied that and actually, it was fascinating. We looked at telling that story, and explaining and debunking that, but when you look at people's behavior based on social media, and when you research how people's behavior, health behavior in particular changes, or doesn't change, based on their perception of the truth. By debunking that and spending that time in a documentary, it does no good. It's really quite fascinating. People really think with their hearts more than with their heads.
KUNM: What do you want people who are skeptical about getting the vaccine, what do you want them to take away from this documentary?
SCHUELER: What I would like them to take away is take the next step, to track down the right information for you, for your community. It really is different for every community. You know, if you're on the border, and you're an immigrant, it may be fear of going online and put your name into a computer system rather than fear the vaccine, you know, there's so many different elements, but I hope they can take this and go, you know, let me rethink this a little bit. Let me just look at what the risks and the rewards are, and really analyze those. And if we can move them a step in that direction. Boy, that would be absolutely fabulous.
KUNM: Chris Schueler is the producer and director of the documentary vaccination from the misinformation virus that's airing on New Mexico PBS. Chris, thanks for talking with me.
SCHUELER: Thank you so much, and thanks for putting the information out there.
The documentary: Vaccination From The Misinformation Virus will broadcast July 29 at 7 p.m. on all three PBS stations in New Mexico and also at 7 p.m. on July 31 in KRQE.