A NEW study by researchers at UWA has revealed what influences parents’ choices about whether to vaccinate their children.
The study, conducted from September 2013 to April 2014, showed parents were largely influenced by social groups, as they were often left feeling either validated or marginalised within their communities.
The study, published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, showed how parents experience tugs towards ‘appropriate’ forms of vaccination behaviour in their social groups, and how non-vaccination was often viewed as a valued form of capital.
The two Australian locations used by researchers had low vaccination rates, Fremantle and postcodes in Adelaide, showed parents in those locations identified as either refusing or delaying recommended vaccines for their children.
Some Fremantle parents were also fully vaccinating, but were quiet about it in social discussions with peers as they were conscious of being the ‘odd one out’ and believing that their decision would be disapproved within the social group.
UWA School of Social Science’s Katie Attwell said vaccination decisions were linked to alternative lifestyles around food, natural products, school choices and birth practices present in like-minded communities.
“While there were differences between social groups in Fremantle and Adelaide, parents from both locations regarded vaccine questioning and refusal as a marker of distinction among their social groups,” Dr Attwell said.
“Many also believed that they were raising children healthy enough to navigate the world unvaccinated.
“Parents in Fremantle who accepted vaccines described experiencing alienation from their community, meanwhile the Adelaide participants, who were initially recruited around an organic market and in many cases were more vehemently opposed to vaccination, found their social groups to be like-minded and felt that their decisions were validated within them.
“What our study really drew out was how the sociality of vaccine questioning and refusal reflects a certain age of life where new parents are making new friends, they don’t want to risk social criticism when they are seeking acceptance,” she said.
The study suggested that public health officials or governments that deliver pro vaccine messages needed to better educate and equip parents who vaccinated to communicate safely about their choices with their peers who did not vaccinate.
“Providing people with effective evidence-based ways to respectfully disagree and introduce new perspectives is an important start in intervening among vaccine- critical social groups,” Dr Attwell said.
The study also considered how parents who vaccinate but were proficient in other practices with high symbolic capital in their groups – such as baby-wearing or infant nutrition – might share this expertise with others as a way of affirming their status within their social groups.