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Focus on the Children: New study finds key to improving vaccine coverage


A new study, published earlier this month in Pediatricshas shown that, when trying to convince parents of young children, that emphasizing the benefits to their infant is more effective than pushing home the societal benefits of the MMR (measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine. With concerns in the US about MMR coverage after a spike in the number of cases in the last year, this research comes at a time when many see the public health authorities as losing the battle against the anti-vaccine movement.

The study found that parents who read text highlighting the benefits to their own children were significantly more likely to say they would have their child vaccinated. The study compared parents in this group against those who received just the basic CDC information about MMR, or those who received messages mentioning societal benefits.

For parents in our study, mentioning the direct positive impact for their own child trumped mention of societal benefits. To me, this indicates that health care providers and public health officials should be explicit in mentioning the benefits of MMR vaccination directly to the child”

--Dr. Hendrix, social psychologist and lead author

The paper was conducted by researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine, lead by social psychologist and pediatric health services researcher Kristin S. Hendrix, Ph.D. The experiment surveyed 802 parents across the US who had children under the age of 12 months. By focussing on the MMR vaccine, the researchers set themselves a tough task in the face of years of (unfounded) speculation about the safety of the vaccine after claims of a link between the vaccine and autism in the late 1990s.

So how does this research sit within the current climate? Well, earlier this year, another paper published in Pediatrics found that presenting people with strong pro-vaccine messages -accompanied by facts, figures, and stories – were actually more likely turn people sitting on the fence away from vaccination. This of course caused concern, for many national health campaigns relied on this sort of approach when attempting to increase vaccine coverage.

This new research no adds a further dimension to be considered when producing pro-vaccine materials: not only must we be subtle and not try to ‘scare’ people into getting vaccinated, we must make it personal, especially where children are concerned.

This chimes with claims that bold pro-vaccine campaigns may be drawing too much attention towards the anti-vaccine movement. As brought to my attention by a reader of this website, people are far more likely to go along with something -from paying taxes, to picking your kids up from school- if they perceive others as doing it. Constant media attention, and pro-vaccine campaigns which seem to imply that lots of people are not getting vaccinated (when they should be) give people the impression that lots of people in fact are not getting vaccinated. So an alternative pro-vaccine campaign is needed, and this new research points the way to words a personal approach that puts a positive angle on vaccination, rather than concentrating on the implications of non-vaccination.