Family Matters

How Social Networks Influence Parents’ Decision to Vaccinate

A small group of parent advocates is mobilizing "gentle propaganda" against vaccine naysayers

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At her son’s preschool near Seattle, Robin Haight is a foot soldier in the vaccine wars. She arranged for a pediatrician to speak about vaccines at the home of a school parent. She put up posters — she calls them “gentle propaganda” — that touted the importance of immunization in stopping the spread of disease. Her husband helped create a spreadsheet to track which children at the school are missing which vaccinations.

Some parents have said that Haight’s provaccination message has no place at preschool, that it’s disrespectful and patronizing, that the decision to vaccinate a child is nobody else’s business. One mother got so emotional that she broke out in hives. But Haight thinks a conversation is critical, and the latest research published in the journal Pediatrics backs her up.

“I’m just trying to let people know that if you don’t vaccinate your children, it might affect other children’s health,” says Haight. “It directly affects a community of young children. How do we not talk about this?”

(MORE: Jenny McCarthy, Vaccine Expert? A Quarter of Parents Trust Celebrities)

With so much confusing and even misleading information about vaccine safety available on the Internet, it’s no surprise that parents are influenced by their friends’ attitudes when it comes to immunizing their kids.

In the study, researchers surveyed 196 parents of children 18 months or younger in King County — Haight’s stomping ground — which has a vaccination rate that’s typically below the national average and has been gripped by a pertussis epidemic, along with areas in Vermont, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Among the parents in the study, 126 followed the nationally recommended childhood-vaccination schedule from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 70 other parents forged their own paths: 28 delayed vaccines, 37 partially vaccinated and five didn’t vaccinate at all.

At least 95% of parents in both groups indicated that they had consulted their “people network” for insight into making vaccination decisions. Parents reported they paid the most attention to their spouse or partner’s opinion. Pediatricians were next in line, followed by friends and relatives. (Interestingly, 10% of parents who followed CDC guidelines — the “conformers” — and 12% of parents who didn’t — the “nonconformers” — failed to list doctors among the top five people in their network.) Here’s why that’s important: 72% of nonconformers’ friends and relatives advised them to disregard CDC recommendations compared with just 13% of conformers’ friends and family members. In other words, says study author Emily Brunson, changing parents’ attitudes about vaccines may be a matter of influencing the people who are influencing parents in the first place.

(MORE: How Safe Are Vaccines?)

The significance of naysayers parents’ networks “blew any other variable out of the water,” says Brunson, who conducted the research as an anthropology graduate student at the University of Washington. “It was more important in terms of predicting what parents decide to do than any other factor, including parents’ own opinions.”

The effect was overwhelming, particularly for parents whose network mostly recommended not following immunization guidelines; they were more than 1,500 times more likely to not adhere to the CDC’s vaccination schedules for their children than other parents. Even parents whose networks were more compliant about following immunization schedules (comprising 26% to 50% of people who advised against the guidelines) were 31 times more likely to not vaccinate as recommended. “Parents’ people networks matter a ton,” says Brunson, now an assistant professor of anthropology at Texas State University. “Having those conversations with your sister, with your parent, with your friends matter a lot more than we thought.”

Parents who didn’t follow vaccination advice were also more likely to have extensive “source networks” — troves of books, websites and magazine articles they turned to for vaccine-related information. On average, 59% of nonconformers’ sources — many of which persist in promoting a widely debunked association between vaccines and autism — recommend ignoring CDC guidelines compared with 20% of conformers’ sources.

(MORE: Are Vaccines Safe? A Major Media Outlet’s Specious Story Fans the Debate)

Although the proportion of “zero dosers” — otherwise known as “antivaxers” — has stayed stable at less than 2%, the number of moms and dads who don’t trust that vaccines will do what experts say they will is growing. In the U.S., where parents haven’t seen firsthand the deadly consequences of vaccine-preventable diseases, pediatricians are frustrated about spending more and more time defending the importance of immunization. What used to be a staple of childhood health is now viewed with at least some skepticism by most parents, including the highly educated. They’re cherry-picking which vaccines they find acceptable or joining the ranks of the “delayers,” the 12% of parents who develop their own vaccine schedule, spacing out shots for years, which experts argue only extends the time their kids are susceptible to disease or capable of passing it on to others. A recent study showed that multiple vaccinations on a single day, which worried some parents, don’t pose a hazard to young children; in fact, older vaccines exposed toddlers to more antigens than newly formulated ones do. “There isn’t a lot of trust,” says pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson, who was inspired by the growing number of hesitant parents to start blogging about vaccines as Seattle Mama Doc. “They’ve all heard the story that Jenny McCarthy told: the day her kid got the MMR shot, the light went out of his eyes.”

The findings highlight a potentially new strategy that public-health officials should consider when getting out the message that childhood immunizations are important for children’s health. It may be time, they say, to extend their reach beyond doctors and start paying attention to other people who influence parents’ vaccination decisions, namely friends and family whom moms and dads list as part of their “social network.” “If we want to improve vaccination rates, communication needs to be directed to the public at large,” says Brunson.

(MORE: Vaccine Safety: New Report Finds Few Adverse Events Linked to Immunizations)

That’s the objective of Immunity Community, the grassroots campaign that recruited Haight as a provaccine crusader. The program is testing the theory behind Brunson’s research, that parents can be instrumental in molding how other parents think about vaccines. At seven pilot sites in western Washington — two child-care centers, three preschools and two elementary schools — 13 “parent advocates” are being trained and supported to start a conversation about vaccination that has historically been dominated by vocal naysayers. When you’re following the status quo — in this case, adhering to the CDC’s recommended guidelines — you tend not to get fired up and speak out.

Later this month, some of the parents will host a health fair at a bowling alley featuring yoga, talks about fire safety and a spin-the-wheel trivia game about vaccine-preventable diseases. “This is about shifting a social norm and elevating the voice of the majority of parents who do immunize,” says Ginny Heller, the immunization program manager at WithinReach, the Washington state nonprofit behind Immunity Community.

(MORE: Multiple Vaccinations on Same Day Does Not Raise Autism Risk)

It’s a work in progress, with lots of cues and miscues. Emotions run high when parents believe others are examining their choices. One mother at Haight’s preschool threatened to withdraw her child; another said that hot topics such as vaccination and circumcision shouldn’t be discussed at school. “They feel they’re being judged,” says Haight.

But preliminary data on Immunity Community’s effectiveness look promising: last year, one Montessori-preschool pilot site raised its immunization rate from 60% to 80%. The CDC is keeping tabs on the results and could bring it to other states as a potential national model, albeit one rooted at the local level. “For people to be passionate and credible and persuasive about this, they have to be local community members,” says Kris Sheedy of the CDC’s immunization-services division. “We know that birds of a feather flock together, so it’s a good thing to make vaccinating parents more visible.”

448 comments
punkakes13
punkakes13

vacinnes r composed by viruses that were inactivated

its pretty disgusting

so they create this immune systemn without harming the body

but really, is this trustfuk?

some peopel get really ill after it, ive seen it, not myself

but i knwo this perosn that whenever she took this vaccine, she basically in the other day had the exactly disease the vaccine were suppoe to combact, i used to take the same, and it never happened to me.. but with her it always happened, was weird

and happened liek 3 or 3 times, and strong

so, from this experience with this person who is close to me, i started doubting vaccines so much

kathy123
kathy123

What would be helpful is if you got your information from peer reviewed replicated sources the world over that all say otherwise. Herd immunity is just a theory right? So is gravity. But I would suggest not testing it esp. if you happen to be anything over four floors up. See you will be unfollowing this comment stream as it has as usual with you folks gone to the ridiculous. The good news is the vast majority of people have caught on and are now paying attention and our laws are changing to protect the herd from this kind of stupidity.

Jemima
Jemima

I would be interested in pro vaxxers opinion about this doctor. 

Dr. Andrew Moulden (Interview): What You Were Never Told About Vaccines

vactruth.com/2009/07/21/dr-andrew-moulden-interview-what-you-were-never-told-about-vaccines/


Josh Carr
Josh Carr

Very true about us not knowing much about the production of medicines, drugs and vaccines, not even foods. What a shame, while we are waiting to know of such great endevers those workers protect their job or something but we as a people need to cherish having such creators as due to blood/dna we may become those creators. We must put to use the great minds of drug makers to boost the economy of the usa with global distribution and boost our moral as well as to be happy is what we want. This is comming from an oil painter. My job is to paint afterall it iz called artwork yet there is no governmental funding for such things although there should be. People do their jobs but with art there are start up costs which makes us companies but we do art not work "eceryday" jobs. Supposed to. Doing art can be difficult because life iz difficult(war etc) but this makes us be to ourselves. We must be protected by the government not really shunned(?). We are emotional people, like the term spy. Real artists taste is to live forever and art is serious yet allows viewers to make deffinitions from/to color. Like a romantic date. Art makes life thus peacefulness. Cia take away hipgoppers' music eqyiptment. Lean on paintings we're not going anywhere. I can make a lot of works I just need the funding.

Dawn Mitera-Tomaszycki
Dawn Mitera-Tomaszycki

Being a parent of a child who list his speech after a vaccination, this was not a risk I was going to take with my second boy. Mind you, it may have been a coincidence but wasn't going there. I waited until the speech was fully developed and took it slow. The government is out of control and irresponsible. There is no need for a child to get five shots at one time. Too much at one time for these little ones. My youngest is fully immunized got less shots compared to following the recommended schedule.

Lisa Dee
Lisa Dee

The blind leading the blind.

Krystal Quinlan Actis
Krystal Quinlan Actis

The UK physician that started the scare of "MMR causes autism" had his license taken away for causing panic across the world. When his initial statement was publicized, it interrupted many countries herd immunity. It was also found out later that this said physician had his own MMR vaccine, & he wanted people to use that instead of the other one. Here is a creditable site regarding the MMR myth - http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/public-health/vaccination-resources/pediatric-vaccination/relationship-between-mmr.page

Daryl van der Meulen
Daryl van der Meulen

I can't help but notice that women's magazines and websites tend to contain excessive amounts of misinformation based on hearsay. It makes women appear more impressionable. It seems that the source of the controversy over immunizations is quite simple. The process looks bad, the idea of making injections into a healthy body seems wrong and nobody want to make a child cry. However things that look bad or make you feel bad aren't necessarily unhealthy and we have actual evidence to back it up. If you really want to know whether or not it is good for your child then try to understand the science behind it.

Alejandro F. Martinez
Alejandro F. Martinez

Parents that don't vaccinate ther kids are not just irresponsible, but a danger to humanity. Ignorance sucks.

Natale Molianro
Natale Molianro

So much misinformation is really causing parents to take uneeded risks.

Erica Johns
Erica Johns

Good thing I made all of my vaccine decisions back before the Internet existed. (Because then all the information on vaccine safety was the same....not! The first document that tipped me off that vaccines weren't necessarily safe? The handout from the CDC that I got from the doctors office.)

Luka Dakskobler
Luka Dakskobler

Even when you're buying a new camera, the review has pros and cons listed. When the media writes about vaccines, it's just pros. Most of the time, even if you ask a doctor, it's just pros. Do you buy a new camera, if the only description of it is from someone almost affiliated with it (talking about funding and sponsorships etc. when it comes to media). You don't. Which is also the reason why people won't trust "experts". But the truth is, and it has become widely known, that vaccines have a large number of side effects just like any other drug. And just like we're educated about the sideffects of let's say antimalaria pills, people should be widely educated about the consequences of vaccination. But no... Why is that? What's the hidden agenda? ;)

Сергей Мальцев
Сергей Мальцев

RUSSIAN TERRORISTS in organized armed gang RUSSIAN MEDIA AND GOVERNMENT CONTINUES "RET" ITS, hiding the truth from the people, are sincerely glad of what is happening RESULTS. DEAR VLADIMIR PUTIN. TO BE OR NOT TO BE THE WAR FOR THE MONEY?, TO BE OR NOT TO BE IRREVERSIBLE AND SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES OF DANGEROUS FOR RUSSIANS ON THE BASIS court decision? TO BE OR NOT TO BE a trial with TERRORIST installed by the customer and performer, BASED ON INTERNATIONAL LAW IN THE WORLD OR THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT, CREATED JUST FOR SUCH PROCEEDINGS ON THE BASIS OF LAW? Sincerely, Sergey Maltsev 23.12. 2009

Margaret Penny Wood
Margaret Penny Wood

The yearly flu vaccine protects you against 80% of the known viruses that year. Greg, you don't know anything for a fact unless you are the head of the CDC.

Jonathan So
Jonathan So

yeah, that comment threw me too. Maybe he was referring to the theory that the rise in cases is due to outside pressures (processed foods or something etc.) Then again Autism spectrum disorders like aspergers does make processing information in different ways easier.

Jonathan So
Jonathan So

I apologize if you feel like I am trivializing the pain parents have, I myself am a late diagnosis as on the spectrum. If you have had experiences with people treating people's choices like they are morons, that is more on the personal communication skills of those people.

Jemima
Jemima

"Vaccination is necessary to keep healthier"


No it isn't.

Shaedo
Shaedo

@Jemima  One of the easiest ways the verify the background of people claiming grand academic achievements is to check their publication record. Someone with the achievements claimed by Andrew Moulden would have at least 10 papers published in peer review journals and probably closer to 25 or more. The easiest and most accurate way to search is to use pub med and search for the author. Here is the link for A. Moulden. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Moulden+A%5BAuthor%5D . None of these are by this author. In other words , whilst he did complete his PhD at Nipissing, he has never made any known, checked or verified scientific results. 
Sadly when enquireing about him, he turns up here, where it claims that Moulden does not believe in viruses or germs:
http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Andrew_Moulden

Marissa101
Marissa101

@Dawn Mitera-Tomaszycki If you think the government is so "out of control" and "irresponsible" then MOVE! This country would be better without people like you in it who don't appreciate it. There are a TON of people who would love to have the chance to live here and take advantage of it has to offer.

Jemima
Jemima

@Lisa Dee 

OPEN your eyes and stop drinking the propaganda waters of those who seek to profit from injecting your child with questionable ingredients!

Jemima
Jemima

@Daryl van der Meulen 


Women's magazines and websites contain LOTS of ads from drug companies as well. Does that mean we ought to spend all day at our doctors office getting prescription after prescription filled just because and 'expert' tells us to?

Jemima
Jemima

@Alejandro F. Martinez

Ignorance sure does suck Alejandro. Please inform yourself so you don't end up with a stroke.

Dr. Andrew Moulden (Interview): What You Were Never Told About Vaccines

vactruth.com/2009/07/21/dr-andrew-moulden-interview-what-you-were-never-told-about-vaccines/


Marissa101
Marissa101

@Alejandro F. Martinez Could not agree more with this statement, except that they are also being selfish and not thinking of the other children they could possibly get sick!

Jemima
Jemima

@Natale Molianro


When you consider that some vaccines can fry your brains to a crisp, it it vital NOT to be misinformed!


Dr. Andrew Moulden (Interview): What You Were Never Told About Vaccines

vactruth.com/2009/07/21/dr-andrew-moulden-interview-what-you-were-never-told-about-vaccines/


DoritReiss
DoritReiss

@Erica Johns Nothing is 100% safe. Have you seriously considered the risks of not vaccinating? Which evidence led you to conclude - in the face of the scientific consensus - that the risks of vaccines were larger? 

Jemima
Jemima

@Erica Johns

"The first document that tipped me off that vaccines weren't necessarily safe? The handout from the CDC that I got from the doctors office."

Smart woman. I don't think enough people read these.

MadeleineWare
MadeleineWare

@Luka Dakskobler Do you really think the person at the camera shop tells you all the reasons not to buy the camera? Do they hand out information pamphlets telling you abotu the bad parts [of the camera], and what to watch out for? Well they do at the doctor's. If you read the inserts that come with vaccines, all freely available on the internet, the cons are included. There is no agenda and no hiding. 
What's increasingly clear to me, however, is that people who think people should be more widely educated about the consequences of vaccination rarely consider immunity as one of those consequences, and focus only on the cons, many of them not so much cons as conjectures. They tend to be woefully uneducated about the consequences of vaccination themselves. 

DoritReiss
DoritReiss

@Luka Dakskobler No one denies vaccines have risks. They do have side effects. Mild side effects - sore arm, slight fever, are common; but all the science suggests that the severe side effects are rare. I don't know where you get your vaccine information. When I get vaccines for myself and my son I get with each a handout that spells the risks and the benefits. Nothing is hidden. The information is easy to find. 

Jemima
Jemima

@Margaret Penny Wood 


I've NEVER had a flu shot and haven't had the flu in over 40 years. 

Why do you think that is?

Jemima
Jemima

@Shaedo @Jemima 

Andrew Moulden was right. Thank god he told enough people the truth about vaccination and how much SICKER it ends up making your kids.



Jemima
Jemima

@Marissa101 


Why don't YOU move to Weimar Germany Marissa. 


Especially since seem to think that fascist behavior (forced vaccines) is acceptable in a country that allows people FREE CHOICE.

DoritReiss
DoritReiss

@Jemima I have never been in a serious car accident. That's not because they do not happen - it's because I was lucky. So were you. I hope your luck holds, in spite of your decision not to take simple precautions. 

DoritReiss
DoritReiss

@Jemima @DoritReiss @Marissa101  Parental rights are important. But they have limits. One place where the state may interfere is when parental rights put the child at risk - like leaving a child at risk of dangerous diseases - or when they put others at risk. Not vaccinating creates both risks. 

Jemima
Jemima

@DoritReiss @Marissa101 @Jemima 


The one thing they DO have the freedom to decide is NOT to let people like you harass them into injecting their kids with crap put out by conflicted interests. 


Don't tell people how to raise their kids unless you want to contribute financially to their well being.

DoritReiss
DoritReiss

@Marissa101 @Jemima Marissa, I also want to remind you tat people do not have 100% freedom to do what they like to their children. 

Marissa101
Marissa101

@Jemima @Marissa101  It's absolutely selfish and irresponsible of you to put not only your own children (which is your free choice) but also responsible parent's (those that vaccinate) children in danger because you are lazy or crazy or both! You people are so stupid and so annoying with your disregard for others especially your disregard for children who can't protect themselves and make an educated and smart choice for themselves. Once again, YOU are the one complaining about the government so like I stated before there are a lot of other people who would die to live here and appreciate all the great things this country and it's government have to offer...unlike you!

Jemima
Jemima

@DoritReiss @Jemima 


All of them. Vaccines cause inflammation. They don't prevent people from catching those diseases they have been vaccinated for (whooping cough, measles) and often have side effects that can last a lifetime.


What is so great about that?

Jemima
Jemima

@DoritReiss @Jemima 


Dr. Moulen's only problem was not being allowed to tell the truth without offending the drug companies. He was right and it will be proven so within 5 years.

In the meantime, your nuts to let your kids get vaccinated just because weak minded individuals have been told to by people they consider more important than them.

Jemima
Jemima

@DoritReiss @Jemima 


Why do you keep parroting the words of 'Orac' the vaccine pusher oracle? One too many vaccines?

Your the twat who thinks getting injected with crap shots is good medicine. Go get your shot and STFU about what other people do with THEIR OWN bodies.