Why do parents choose not to vaccinate?


Readers of this blog will know that I have written several times about vaccinations.  I have become increasingly frustrated about the low rates of vaccinations and the sense that some people are essentially putting their heads into the sand on this important issue.  If I was forced to stake out a position then I think my underlying view was not dissimilar to the above New Yorker cartoon that has been circulating on Facebook.

There were two items on NPR this morning that discussed why, even in the face of the current Measles outbreak, parents are still failing to vaccinate their children.  Both items endeavored to understand the psychology of this resistance.  The first article by Jon Hamilton shares the story of a Mom who chose not to vaccinate her daughter because she felt that there was a risk of Autism and conversely very little risk from disease.  She was also in a group that she referred to as the  “crunchy mums” who questioned “mainstream medicine and things that aren’t natural”.

For such parents they perceived no downside risk of not vaccinating and conversely vaccinating would in essence break a covenant with the “natural” way of being that they aspired to.  In the case of the Mom in this story her daughter was subsequently diagnosed with Autism.  Because her daughter had not been vaccinated at the time of the diagnosis it was clear that there was some other as yet unknown cause for this disorder.  The Mom also kept talking through the issues with her pediatrician and over time, after becoming aware of the Autism diagnosis, made the decision to vaccinate her daughter.

The second article was by the amazing Shankar Vedantam.  Vedantam was doing a follow up story to an earlier study that showed that espousing the health benefits of vaccines to parents, that did not trust vaccines, actually made them less trusting of science and vaccines.

For these parents trying to debunk their beliefs about vaccines had the perverse result of reinforcing those beliefs.  Vedantam suggests that the way to work with these parents is to spend time trying to build a relationship with them and to truly understand their fears.  It seems to me that the pediatrician in the first story epitomized this kind of philosophy by working with the mum over a long period of time, and by keeping that relationship and the discussion open, was finally able to help the Mom get to a space where vaccinations became the right decision.

Of course the only problem with this is that it does take a long time and the current Measles outbreak is building so quickly that we know that some innocent children will be hurt.

On that somber note – have a great day.


Ken Gordon

Executive Director


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