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Hot Topics: People, networks may sway parents' vaccine choices, survey finds

NEW YORK - The people and information sources parents surround themselves with may influence their choice to vaccinate their children or not, according to a survey from one county in Washington state.

Vaccination
A survey in King County, Wash., has found that parents who choose to not have their children vaccinated are influenced by larger social groups. (Associated Press)

NEW YORK - The people and information sources parents surround themselves with may influence their choice to vaccinate their children or not, according to a survey from one county in Washington state.

Of almost 200 parents who took the survey, almost all said they had groups of people offering advice on vaccination, but those who chose not to fully vaccinate their children were more likely to have larger social groups and to turn to other sources, such as books, pamphlets and the Internet, for guidance.

"The take-home message from this is that the social networks for the majority of parents are extremely important in affecting vaccination decisions," said Emily Brunson, the study's author from Texas State University in San Marcos.

"Especially the people in the parents' networks suggesting nonconformity is greater than anything else - including the parents' own beliefs on vaccination," she added.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children under the age

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of 6 years old get a series of shots that protect against 14 preventable diseases, including chickenpox, measles and whooping cough.

The latest report on vaccination rates from the CDC shows 95 percent of kindergarten-aged children receive their vaccinations, but many children still receive their shots late.

The fear is that parents who don't vaccinate or who delay vaccinating their children put their own kids as well as others at risk for developing preventable disease, such as whooping cough.

Last year the U.S. experienced one of the largest whooping cough outbreaks in half a century, which health officials attributed both to vaccines wearing off and to parents simply skipping the pertussis vaccinations for their children.

For the new study, Brunson surveyed parents to see what impact a person's social group and information sources had on their decision to vaccinate their children.

The people who took the survey were recruited from around King County, Wash., which includes the city of Seattle, and were U.S.-born, first-time parents with children younger than 18 months old.

Overall, 126 "conformers" - people who vaccinated their children according to the recommended schedule, and 70 "nonconformers" - people who didn't stick to the schedule - took the survey between March and July 2010.

Of those 70 "nonconformers," 28 were getting their children all the recommended shots, but not on time. Another 37 were only partially vaccinating their children and five were not vaccinating their children at all.

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About 95 percent of all parents reported having a group of people offering advice on vaccination, but "nonconformers" tended to have larger groups of people to tap for information than "conformers."

"Nonconformers" typically reported about seven people who gave them advice, compared to about five people in "conformer's" social groups.

The people included in those groups were similar among the two types of parents. Spouses and partners were usually the most important advisers, followed by doctors, family and then friends.

Typically, "nonconformers'" groups included about 72 percent of people who recommended against vaccination in some way. That compared to 13 percent among "conformers."

Related Topics: HEALTH
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