Vaccine Discussions: It's All in How You Frame the Benefits

Diedtra Henderson

August 18, 2014

Parents were more likely to agree to vaccinating their infants against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) when they were told how their child would personally benefit from the shot, rather than if they learned about the fuzzier benefits to society, according to a randomized trial.

Kristin S. Hendrix, PhD, from the Department of Pediatrics, Indiana University School of Medicine, and Regenstrief Institute Inc, both of Indianapolis, Indiana, and coauthors report the results of their study in an article published online August 18 in Pediatrics.

Although vaccination rates among children remain robust, a small but growing minority of parents refuses such vaccinations or pushes for staggered vaccinations because of concerns about possible harms, Dr. Hendrix and coauthors note. Indeed, at least 1 recent study that found that an MMR vaccination campaign backfired and led to fewer parents being willing to vaccinate their children.

Previous studies have shown that adult patients are more likely to accept vaccination for themselves when they are told about the protection conferred to the broader society from herd immunity, which occurs when large numbers of people are vaccinated. The authors sought to determine whether that was also true when parents were deciding about vaccinating their child.

The researchers tested 4 different messages via an online national survey completed in May 2012 by 802 parents of infants younger than 12 months. The messages tested were:

  • the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) standard MMR vaccine message, which includes general information on the MMR and the vaccine;

  • the CDC message plus information on the benefit to the individual child;

  • the CDC message plus information on the benefits to society; and

  • the CDC message plus information on the benefits to the individual child and to society.

The infant-specific message included details about protecting the child against getting measles, mumps, or rubella; not missing school or activities because of such illnesses; and being able to play with friends without interruption during disease outbreaks.

The parents who received the message about the benefit to their child were significantly more likely to accept vaccination compared with those who only received the standard CDC message (mean intention to vaccinate, 91.6 vs 86.3; P = .01).

The potency of the individual benefit message was not diluted when it was combined with societal benefits from vaccination (mean intention, 90.8; P = .03, compared with CDC message only). However, on its own, benefits to society with herd immunity did not sway more parents to vaccinate their children compared with the standard message (mean intention, 86.4 vs 86.3; P = .97).

On the basis of their results, the authors conclude that healthcare providers seeking to persuade parents should emphasize vaccination's direct benefits to children.

"The implications of this research are potentially far-reaching," Dr. Hendrix and colleagues conclude. "This work contributes to the emerging literature about vaccine communication with parents and can provide additional evidence to inform MMR vaccine communication approaches and perhaps vaccine communication in general."

The Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute and the National Institutes of Health provided financial support for the study. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Pediatrics. Published online August 18, 2014.


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