Anti-Vaccine Parents Seek Like-Minded Opinions
Study suggests friends, family may be important sources of advice
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 said.
Media campaigns and other approaches that reach the general public, not just parents, might work better, Brunson said.