Addressing the rejection of childhood vaccination

In late October, my colleagues and I received welcome news of funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for a study that tries to better understand why some parents don’t vaccinate their children and develop effective policy proposals. This is an important and socially innovative project. It’s also a personal highlight because I have tried for many years to secure a project grant. As so many researchers know, this is an intensely competitive scheme where success rates are around 15%. This is an important topic where conflict abounds and better evidence is urgently needed.

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In the study, we will interview parents who don’t vaccinate their children to learn what influences their decisions. These parents tend to cluster geographically and share specific beliefs, values and practices. We want to better understand their views.

We will then hold community panels to refine strategies for responding to active non-vaccination that are acceptable to a well-informed citizenry, practical and ethically justified. This is of interest because efforts to address this issue (e.g., facts-based responses or shaming strategies) tend to have a poor evidence base and their impacts are not fully understood. The proposed solutions often assume that vaccine rejection is an individual decision, neglecting the role of social norms and community influence. From this research, we will develop a Vaccination Communication Toolkit for those working in the area.

The project will run from 2017 to 2020. I’m working with a strong team with expertise in qualitative methods, community juries, primary health care, maternal and child health and the sociology of trust, including Stacy Carter (aka The Grant Whisperer)  and Chris Degeling from the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, and Lesley Barclay, University of Sydney, and Paul Ward from Flinders University. Associate investigators also contribute expertise across diverse fields. They are: Adam Dunn, Angus Dawson, Claire Hooker, Helen Marshall, Katie Attwell, Kerrie Wiley, and Paul Corben. We look forward to working with citizens, health professionals and organisations, particularly in regions with higher rates of vaccine rejection.

We hope to build more effective relationships between public health and non-vaccinating communities, seeking to understand what policy options are best for Australian society, and that are in the best interests of the unvaccinated children.

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