To Vaccinate Or Not To Vaccinate? With A Lot of Help From My Friends

A new study in Pediatrics finds parents living outside Seattle do indeed get by on a little help from their friends.  At least when it comes to figuring out whether or how to schedule their young children's vaccinations.  Because this is 2013 please note we longer talk simply about friends but our social networks.

Can you guess who parents trusted the most?

Spouses or partners.  Then pediatricians followed by friends and family. Now of course this doesn't necessarily mean terrible news for the American Academy of Pediatrics or Centers for Disease Control but it unfortunately has become clear not all social networks are created equal in terms of accuracy. 

What might surprise no one here - parents who don't follow the recommended guidelines (i.e. the nonconformers) have advisors whispering over their shoulders or smartphones to forgo the vaccination schedule or vaccines in general. Obviously the nonconformists have to get their reasons from somewhere and the vaccines-are-evil messages aren't coming from medical professionals so where else would it be other than their friends, I mean social network comprised of you got it, anti-vaccine whisperers?

But this study shows the power of friends who question the recommended  vaccination schedule, especially to those who diss the official recommendations:

The effect (of friends who are anti-vax) 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.” How Social Networks Influence Parents’ Decision to Vaccinate, Time Healthland
I should point out that the state of Washington has a vaccination rate considerably lower than the national average and not surprising, recent outbreaks of whooping cough. In this study 126 of 168 parents followed the guidelines exactly ( i.e. each one and on time). Only 5 choose not give their children any vaccinations. So it's a pretty small sample in a state not exactly known for following convention.

So what's the American Academy of Pediatricians to do? Start their own Friends and Family campaign?  Infiltrate your next family reunion?  Playgroup? Neighborhood block party?

Speaking of immunizations...Happy First Birthday to Shot At Life!  What are you doing to celebrate?

Shot@Life. A movement to protect children worldwide by providing life-saving vaccines where they are most needed.

UPDATE: Tara Haelle, a fellow Evidence-Based Parenting Carnival member alerted me to a more detailed, thoughtful article she wrote on this study over at DoubleXScience. She also wrote about the fear factor in vaccination decisions too. Thanks, Tara!


Tara said...

Hey Polly, if you're interested, I spoke to Brunson and wrote a lengthy piece on this study and how it relates to another one on Twitter:

Part 2 is here:

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Hey Tara, many thanks. Great pieces, been waiting for studies like these. Would love to see them replicated with other samples, keep me updated if you learn about them!