When making decisions about vaccinating their children, parents may be influenced by their health care providers, family members, friends and the media. In a study in the May 2013 Pediatrics, researchers analyzed the role these social networks play in parents’ decisions about immunization. For the study, “The Impact of Social Networks on Parents’ Vaccination Decisions,” published online April 15, researchers surveyed parents in King County, Washington, an area known for lower-than-average vaccination rates. Parents listed the people and other sources they obtained information from regarding vaccination, ranked which sources were most influential, and listed what advice each provided. Parents also provided information about their vaccination decisions. Among the 196 parents surveyed, 126 conformed to the recommended vaccine schedule, and 70 parents did not conform to the recommended schedule (including complete but delayed vaccination, partial on-time vaccination, partial vaccination on a delayed schedule, and complete nonvaccination). Parents who did not conform to the recommended schedule had a higher percentage of people in their social networks who recommended not conforming to the vaccine schedule. On average, 72 percent of nonconformers’ networks recommended nonconformity, compared with only 13 percent of conformers’ network members. Nonconformers were also more likely to seek information from sources like books, research articles, handouts, media reports and the Internet, and the sources they used were more likely to recommend nonconformity. Study authors conclude that social networks play a key role in parents’ decision-making about vaccines, and that interventions aimed at increasing vaccine acceptance should focus on these broader communities so that parents’ spouses, family members and friends are also included.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.