We live in a profoundly different time today when it comes to caregiving, parenting, and gaining health care/advice than we did even 5 or 10 years ago. The internet has changed things dramatically. During an interview recently a reporter asked, “You were raised on digital media, yes?” Well, no. I didn’t started using email until late 1995 just prior to leaving college, didn’t get a cell phone until I was teaching, didn’t have a working computer in my apartment until I started my master’s degree (after med school), and didn’t join social media until 2008. It was bedrest with my second pregnancy that urged the establishment of a profile on Facebook. That online community changed everything.
I’m no digital native but I may act like one.
My husband, my friends, and the doctors I’ve chosen to help me raise my boys certainly do color my belief about the world. So do the things I read and watch online.
There has been 3 measles cases in Seattle this July and 58 cases of measles in Brooklyn, NY since March. Measles is preventable with a very effective vaccine. The vaccine is so good that after 2 doses of the MMR shot, over 99% of people are protected against measles for life. However, often our community shapes our decisions to vaccinate…
An insightful Pediatrics study and accompanying editorial published earlier this year illuminate the reality that social networks carry big weight for parents making decisions about immunizations. We do make decisions in the context of our lives and the social network we choose to use as a sounding board really does help us determine what to do in moments of confusion.
In the study, the “social network” referenced are not just our online “friends,” rather it’s our family and those we look to in moments of indecision. We learn from them in real life and in online social networks.
It’s no surprise then that the study found the social network surrounding parents are a powerful determinate of how parents immunize their children. Emily Brunson, MPH, PhD, a public health researcher, sought to understand who made up parents’ networks and who was the most powerful influencer for parents when making decisions about vaccines.
When you read the data, please tell me if any of this surprises you.
Social Networks Influence Parents’ Vaccine Decisions:
- Dr Brunson surveyed just shy of 200 parents about their social networks, along with their decisions for children on a routine or delayed vaccine schedule as the dependent variable. Of note, the sample was not a random one (they enrolled in the study after solicitation) and may not reflect parents across the US well. The participants in the study consisted mainly of white (>80%) mothers (>90%) living in and around Seattle.
- Of the 196 parents completing the survey, 126 parents indicated they followed the CDC vaccine schedule (called “conformers”) while 70 “nonconformers” completed the survey (28 parents who were completely vaccinating but on a delayed schedule, 8 parents who were partially vaccinating on time, 29 parents who were partially vaccinating on a delayed schedule, and 5 parents who were not vaccinating at all).
- In both the conformers and non-conformer group, parents listed their spouse or partner as the #1 influencer in their social network (55% of conformers, 48% of nonconformers). However, 34% of conformer-moms listed the health care provider as the number one influencer and 36% of nonconformers said this. The remainder of social networks for these moms typically consisted of friends, family, and professors as the top 5 influencers.
- Of note, 90% of conformers and 88% of non-conformers listed their health care provider in their top 5 influencers.
- Dr Brunson evaluated sources outside of the people in a social network which she called source networks. Source networks were other places parents sought information about vaccinations. One hundred percent of the non-conformers listed a source network (books, internet, journals or magazines) as did 80% of conformers in addition to the people network they maintained. Books surpassed all other– internet, journal articles, or magazine– information for parents when it came to vaccine decisions. In fact, 41% of nonconformers and 28% of conformers listed books as an important source of vaccine information. Particular books were not identified.
- For those moms and dads who delayed or declined vaccines for children, Dr Brunson found that sentiments expressed by a parent’s social network were the strongest influencer if they immunized their children on the recommended schedule. More than anything, the voices cautioning against vaccinations deterred non-comforming parents when deciding to delay or hold off on immunizations for their children.
Out of all of the variables considered in this study, the percent of parents’ network members recommending nonconformity was more predictive of parents’ vaccination decisions than any other variable including parents’ own perceptions of vaccination.
Otherwise stated, it turns out that in the group studied, it mattered more what negative things parents heard from their social network than their own held beliefs on vaccines when they decided to delay or decline an immunization for their child. Many of us really do what our friends recommend. I love the perspective provided in the (short) editorial by Drs Marcuse and Opel which details the power of social conformity.
Clearly this data only compels me more to get pediatricians online, in your network, sharing their wisdom and expertise about vaccinations to help you understand even more the stakes at play. But the data also compels me to finish my book…
I’ll often have a parent in the office decline a vaccine because of a spouse’s belief. Now I understand a bit more about why. Please share your reactions to this data. Sound about right? If you delayed a vaccine in the past, do you think it was in part (or mainly) due to what you’d heard from your network?
Chris Johnson says
A related item in the most recent issue of Pediatrics: counties in New York with decreased rates of pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination experienced increased number of cases. No surprise there, but it’s useful to see the data. Whooping cough is unusual in that the population we are trying most to protect are too young to get the vaccine. We rely on somewhat older children (and adults, with Tdap vaccine) to be vaccinated so they can’t pass on the disease to infants. Here’s the article:
Seattle Social Media says
Your blog is great to read…
I do not use social networking sites and have gone from vaccinating to questioning to seeking answers. My instinct has been not to vaccinate, but due to doctor pressures and lack of real information (about vaccines, their sources, their preservatives, their true side effects, and their challenges in conferring true immunity) I relented and vaccinated my children…on time. That lack of information extended to the realm of scheduling. I didn’t know I could choose to space out the vaccines so my child wasn’t receiving two triple vaccines, and two single ones in one visit. And then repeating that process every few months.
To say that not vaccinating a child is irresponsible or due to misinformation is an erroneous assumption. While autism isn’t yet documented, vaccine makers and vaccine activists recognize and acknowledge the link between vaccines and speech delays and neurological ticks, pointing to potential neurological stress and interference or damage.
While educating the public about the need to vaccinate, it’s important to ensure the public is making an informed decision about what they are injecting into their children. even though thimerosal isn’t being used as frequently now (in great part due to opposition and recognition of the poisonous effects of mercury on the body), we are still injecting our children with formaldehyde and other preservatives. In addition to that, we are growing 6 or 7 of our vaccines in aborted fetal cells which many people would have an issue with if they knew. The interference of that foreign material with our own system is still in question, yet we are still injecting it into our children. Yes, I would have liked to know that when electing to vaccinate in the past.
Why not vaccinate despite what my friends might say? Because immunity, true immunity, is extremely important and there may be longer lasting benefits to breastfed children from mothers who have received natural immunity by way of catching the disease and fighting it off than from mother’s who have a forced immunity from vaccines.
I took my child to the health department last month for a Td booster and they recommended the TDaP instead b/c Pertussis was being seen in vaccinated populations even 2 years after vaccination. Are we prepared to vaccinate for Pertussis every two years? I think it’s curious that the bird flu was hitting young adults so hard when that should be the most robust population. They’ve been heavily vaccinated yet their immune systems are untrained to handle a new virus.
There is no correct answer because we cannot say conclusively (or even remotely) that vaccines don’t have potentially serious, even lethal adverse reactions. Over the years I’ve met friends who’ve lost siblings to a vaccine reaction. I saw an episode of severe convulsions in a school-aged girl in the doctor’s office as he administered a vaccine and have encountered the speech, ticks and neurological interferences in my own children.
So, while social networking doesn’t pressure me, I mostly feel the pressure to vaccinate from institutions and from people who, admittedly, haven’t read up on the subject and only take the current recommendation. As I’ve questioned,I’ve found that Japan had laws AGAINST vaccinating children before the age of two due to a child’s immune system not being fully developed. When they relaxed that law, they saw marked increases in childhood leukemia, cancer, MS, and other auto immune disorders. So, it’s offensive to read that parents who choose not to vaccinate are doing so out of stupidity or ignorance. Many, if not most, are doing so out of concern and after investigating quite deeply. Our pediatrician and many others, admittedly, haven’t read up on these issues enough (if at all) in order to have a worthwhile discussion. Many aren’t even aware of the preservatives they’re using nor the fetal cells the MMR, chickenpox, shingles, and other vaccines are harvested in. For those vaccines, there isn’t even a non-human cell alternative at this time. So, to say that parents should rely on their healthcare provider, when clearly healthcare providers are not providing full disclosure, is irresponsible. A parent cannot blindly trust what a doctor is saying without verifying and checking. They need to verify. And if they have to verify what a doctor is saying, they should doubly verify what their friends are pressuring them to do on a social networking site. But that verification may lead them to truly question the vaccine industry, the new marketing of vaccines to older populations and the actual need for the yearly flu vaccines. It might also bring them to natural ways to boost their own immunity and strengthen their body’s ability to fight infections without adding poisons that may interfere with the proper functioning of our immune systems.
So, with vaccinations we gain herd immunity? But lose the ability to fight off new infections for which there is no developed vaccine? Perhaps the trade-off is not an even one. Either way, people should be able to decide for themselves and for their children, or else we’ll fall into the China mentality where the state decides for us what’s good for our bodies, and for the state…and while they’re at it, they’ll decide how many babies we can have.
March Twisdale says
Dear Mimi…I would love to connect with you. Please take a look at my blog to see what I and my co-writer have been trying to do, with regard to helping people talk about vaccine medicine in an egalitarian and non-pushy manner. http://www.vaccinesandbeyond.blogspot.com
I also have a radio show, and this month I interviewed an author of a book which fictionalizes a real life story about a woman who successfully proved that her son was damaged by the DPT shot in 1969.
We need not turn away from vaccine medicine…but we ought to use it wisely and free from coercion, just like other medicines.
I hope to hear from you. Sincerely, March