Why do some parents shun vaccination?

Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan

November 17th, 2011

Gary Finnegan

‘“If facts and information were the only solution then nobody would smoke anymore. If all our decisions were rational we probably wouldn’t buy increasing quantities of bottled water, and if studies were all that were needed to re-instate confidence in a vaccine, we would not be experiencing outbreaks of measles and mumps across Europe.”’

Fondation-merieuxNext week’s Fondation Merieux conference on immunisation policy promises to go beyond traditional approaches to vaccine acceptance by drilling down into the science of behaviour and the psychology of decision-making.  

The opening quotation above, taken from the conference programme, says a lot about where current thinking on vaccination is moving.
Gone is the notion that filling in an information deficit will lead people to hold a positive view of vaccines.

Gone too is the paternalistic attitude that saw scientists or authorities tell people what’s best for them.

Devising systems to replace these traditional approaches has become an urgent task.

In truth, recent years have been a mixed bag for vaccination: we’ve seen the development of new innovative vaccines but access to these products is far from universal while immunisation rates for established vaccines have fallen in some countries.

A measles epidemic looks set to scupper attempts to wipe out the disease in Europe while polio remains stubbornly resistant to global eradication.

On the plus side, a renewed sense of momentum has gathered behind improving access to life-saving vaccines in the developing world, thanks in no small part to public-private partnerships such as the GAVI Alliance and high profile advocates like Bill Gates who have put the issue firmly on the political agenda.

Against this background, it is fitting to take stock of where immunisation policy stands and to ask where it should go.

Can the coalition of advocates, experts, parents, industry and policymakers that is coalescing around immunisation issues make a real difference to vaccination rates? And if so, how can they reach billions of individuals who are bombarded with information but unsure who to trust?

What can be learned from social media tools and cutting edge research in fields like behavioural economics?

The Fondation Merieux conference, Reinvigorating Immunisation Policy Implementation and Success – From Parent to Partner and from Broadcast to Engagement, will look at decision-making and communications in a world dominated by consumer choice and new media.

The three-day event in Annecy, France, kicks with a lecture from journalist Brian Deer, the Sunday Times reporter who broke several stories on the scientist behind the flawed research which falsely suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Anthropologists, psychologists, communications experts and leading vaccine industry figures will contribute to an in-depth discussion of how to meaningfully engage with the public on vaccination issues at such a critical time.

Follow the discussion on Twitter from November 21st to 23rd using the hashtag #ImmunoPol


  1. Jenna


    November 22nd, 2011

    It is true! My husband’s grandfather (who died of emphysema) was told at the age of 10 that smoking would ‘strengthen [his] lungs’…
    I think this is what is frustrating to people. ‘Experts’ change their mind as new information comes along. People know that certain vaccinations can case encephalitis (the yellow fever one, I know for sure)…we all know that can’t be good, yet we’re treated like idiots for questioning ‘authorities’ whose opinions CHANGE all the time!

  2. Caroline


    November 22nd, 2011

    Seeking out reliable information has led me to shun vaccines for my baby daughter. I used to teach high school journalism. One exercise was helping kids tell the difference between fact and opinion. In college, a persuasive writing class helped me appreciate backed-up claims. I find much irony in a pro-vaccine claim that parents who shun vaccines are not interested in high quality information.

  3. Gary Finnegan

    Gary Finnegan

    November 24th, 2011

    @Concernedmom & @Jenna. Fair point about smoking but science is never as certain as we expect. However, as Keynes said: ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’

    The very best information available says the benefits of recommended vaccines far outweigh the risks. I would never say vaccines are risk-free.

    We’ll have reports from the conference shortly and some of these issues are addressed.

    @Caroline: apologies if that’s the impression given above. Perhaps the article is too short on detail. Please come back in the coming weeks to talk about the articles we post about the conference.

    As you say, research suggests people with questions about vaccination have searched for and engaged with info on vaccines more than most.

  4. John Fryer

    John Fryer

    November 24th, 2011

    No one denies the benefits of vaccines.

    The argument is over realising and studying the harm to the very few.

    How can progress be made in vaccine safety when it typically takes 10 to 20 years to receive acknowledgement of vaccine adverse events?

    One of my big problems is the repeat vaccines given for example to teenage girls. How many suffer after their first vaccine? How many after their third?

    Does current vaccine science accept the work of Charles Richet on ANAPHYLAXIS?