The people and information sources parents surround themselves
with may influence their choice to vaccinate their children or not, according to
a survey from one county in Washington state.
Of almost 200 parents who took the survey, almost all said they
had groups of people offering advice on vaccination, but those who chose not to
fully vaccinate their children were more likely to have larger social groups and
to turn to other sources, such as books, pamphlets and the Internet, for
"The take-home message from this is that the social networks
for the majority of parents are extremely important in affecting vaccination
decisions," said Emily Brunson, the study's author from Texas State University
in San Marcos. "Especially the people in the parents' networks suggesting
nonconformity is greater than anything else - including the parents' own beliefs
on vaccination," she added.
Many kids get shots late
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
recommends young children under the age of six years old get a series of shots
that protect against 14 preventable diseases, including chickenpox, measles and
The latest report on vaccination rates from the CDC shows 95%
of kindergarten-aged children receive their vaccinations, but many children
still receive their shots late.
The fear is that parents who don't vaccinate or who delay
vaccinating their children put their own kids as well as others at risk for
developing preventable disease, such as whooping cough.
Last year the US experienced one of the largest whooping cough
outbreaks in half a century, which health officials attributed both to vaccines
wearing off and to parents simply skipping the pertussis vaccinations for their
What the study found
For the new study, Brunson surveyed parents to see what impact
a person's social group and information sources had on their decision to
vaccinate their children.
The people who took the survey were recruited from around King
County, Washington, which includes the city of Seattle, and were US-born,
first-time parents with children younger than 18 months old.
Overall, 126 "conformers" - people who vaccinated their
children according to the recommended schedule, and 70 "nonconformers" - people
who didn't stick to the schedule - took the survey between March and July
2010.Of those 70 "nonconformers," 28 were getting their children all the
recommended shots, but not on time.
Another 37 were only partially vaccinating their children and
five were not vaccinating their children at all.
About 95% of all parents reported having a group of people
offering advice on vaccination, but "nonconformers" tended to have larger groups
of people to tap for information than "conformers."
"Nonconformers" typically reported about seven people who gave
them advice, compared to about five people in "conformer's" social
The people included in those groups were similar among the two
types of parents. Spouses and partners were usually the most important advisers,
followed by doctors, family and then friends.
Typically, "nonconformers'" groups included about 72% of people
who recommended against vaccination in some way. That compared to 13% among
"Nonconformers" were also more likely to seek outside sources,
such as books, news programmes and the Internet. Compared to 80% of "conformers"
who said they used those outside sources, all "nonconformers" said they
Brunson writes in the journal Pediatrics that her findings show
healthcare providers are only a part of parents' social networks. She adds that
it's essential for programmes trying to increase vaccination rates to also focus
on "communities more broadly so that the other people parents are likely to
consult are also included."
Dr Joseph Anthony Bocchini, Jr, chairman of Pediatrics Medicine
at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, said the new
study adds additional information by using a social network approach for the
first time to understand parents' decisions about vaccinating their
"I think that what needs to be done is that everybody needs to
understand the importance of vaccines. And they're not only important for the
people who receive them but they're also important for the community," said
Bocchini, who was not involved in the new research.
He said that in addition to doctors, the American Academy of
Pediatrics and the CDC have valuable information on their websites about
vaccinations for children.