MONDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) -- Friends and family may be
key in parents' decisions on whether to vaccinate their young
children, a small study suggests.
The study, of about 200 parents, found that those who had opted
not to follow the standard vaccine schedule often sought advice
from anti-vaccine friends and family.
Experts said it's not certain that the advice actually steered
parents in an anti-vaccine direction: Parents who were already
prone to shunning vaccines may have turned to like-minded people
"It's the chicken-and-egg question," said researcher Emily Brunson, an assistant professor of anthropology at Texas State University, in San Marcos. "The answer is, we don't know which came first."
To be more sure, Brunson said, parents would have to be followed
over time, to see whether undecided parents actually base vaccine
decisions on advice from other people.
But Brunson said she thinks family, friends and others in
parents' "social networks" really are an important influence.
Dr. Douglas Opel, of Seattle Children's Research Institute and
the University of Washington, agreed.
"It is unclear how these groups influence parents. Do they simply reinforce the vaccine decisions parents would have made otherwise, or do they actually function as a way that provokes a parent to consider other ideas?" said Opel, who wrote an editorial published with the study, which appears online April 15 and in the May print issue of the journal Pediatrics
Opel said his hunch is that family and friends reinforce
parents' existing views. But even if that's true, they are still a
big influence by bolstering parents' beliefs.
Experts recommend that babies and young children routinely
receive vaccinations against a host of common (or once common)
infectious diseases, such as measles, mumps, whooping cough,
chickenpox and hepatitis.
But some parents balk at those recommendations, largely because
of a purported link between vaccines and autism. More than a
decade's worth of studies have failed to confirm that link exists,
but anxiety remains: A recent study of U.S. parents found that
about one-third thought children receive too many vaccinations in
their first two years, and they thought the shots could contribute
Brunson wanted to see where parents are turning to get their
information, so she recruited nearly 200 parents of children 18
months old or younger. About 130 had their child up to date on all
vaccines (and were dubbed "conformers") and 70 had opted to skip or
delay at least some vaccinations ("nonconformers").
In an online survey, Brunson asked the parents to list the
people and other sources -- such as websites and books -- they had
gone to for vaccine advice.
She found that nearly all parents had sought advice from other
people -- usually several people, including their doctor, spouse,
family members and friends. And parents' ultimate decisions
generally fell in line with that advice.
Among nonconforming parents, nearly three-quarters of their
social circle recommended not vaccinating, on average. That was in
sharp contrast to the conformers, whose social circles by and large
said they should have their child vaccinated on time.
Brunson found that the more anti-vaccine views parents heard
from their circle, the more likely they were to skip or delay
vaccinations. And people seemed to matter more than information
sources, such as the media.
She noted that the media often "gets a bad rap" as being a well
of vaccine misinformation. But in this study, nonconforming parents
actually got a more positive view of vaccines from the media than
they did from their social circles.
Brunson and Opel said the findings speak to the power of the
people in our lives.
"Parents do not make immunization decisions in a vacuum," Opel said. "Parents listen to and are influenced by other parents."
He said parents who vaccinate might try being more "vocal" to
other parents about why they made their decision.
Brunson said efforts to encourage parents to vaccinate often
focus on the role of pediatricians. "But this study is saying that
we probably need to have a much broader approach than that," she
Media campaigns and other approaches that reach the general
public, not just parents, might work better, Brunson said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has information on
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