A parent’s decision about whether to follow the recommended childhood vaccination schedule is heavily influenced by attitudes of individuals in their social circles about the practice, suggest study findings published today in the journal Pediatrics.
The refusal of some parents to vaccinate their children or to adhere to the advised timing of vaccines has been a growing public health concern, particularly because this behavior is often concentrated in certain communities. Misinformation about the safety of vaccines has been suggested as 1 possible explanation for this phenomenon. To counter this, efforts have been launched to improve the accuracy of information available to parents and to encourage pediatricians to engage parents on the issue.
But the latest study suggests that other types of social influences may be weighing heavily in parents’ decisions. The researchers surveyed 126 first-time parents of children aged 18 months or younger who were conforming to the vaccine schedule and 70 who were not. Nonconforming parents were more likely than conforming parents to report having sought information about vaccination from sources such as the internet rather than from other people. But the vaccination views of individuals in parents’ social networks were by far the strongest predictors of vaccination behavior. This relationship was even stronger than a parent’s individual characteristics.
The authors conclude that more studies of these social influences on vaccination are needed and suggest that interventions targeting parents alone are not enough.
“It is also essential that interventions aimed at increasing vaccine acceptance not focus exclusively on parents, or parents and their children’s health care providers, but rather focus on communities more broadly so that the other people parents are likely to consult, such as their spouses/partners, family members, and friends, are also included,” the authors said.