WA research on anti-vax motivation and secrecy

Researchers at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia have launched a pilot study to investigate the motivations of anti-vaccinators, and why they might keep their decision secret from friends and family.

Lead researcher Dr Bronwyn Harman, senior lecturer at the School of Psychology and Social Science, told media outlets that it was important to understand the reasons parents were not vaccinating their children.

University researchers interviewed a group of parents from an anti-vaccination cluster area about their reasons for not immunising their children. All the parents said they hadn’t told their extended family and friends that their children weren’t vaccinated.

“They don’t want the confrontation, they’re tired of people questioning their choices, and they don’t want to justify their decision, so they just don’t tell people,” Harman said.

“It really does frighten me [when] a lot of people coming into contact with [pregnant] women and children aren’t disclosing their status out of fear of being perceived as bad parents,” she said.

Early results from the study indicate that the prime reason for not vaccinating was mistrust of government as manipulators of opinion. Other reasons included the belief that a healthy diet alone could protect their children in addition to herd immunity.

“These parents believe they are being lied to and believe they have done enough of their own research to believe vaccinating is risky,” Harman said, “even though much of their research comes from unreliable sources on the internet.”

University of Sydney paediatrics expert Professor Nicholas Wood told the ABC that promoting shame among parents who did not vaccinate was not an effective tactic to improve vaccination rates.

“The anti-vaxxers are likely to believe it is just more of an attack on their choice.

“What we need to do is to tackle the wide range of reasons that the ‘not very many’ are not vaccinated in an open and individualised way, remove shame and lessen confusion.”

He said it was important to not ‘lump’ people who wanted to get their children vaccinated but could not do so for genuine reasons with those who were overtly anti-vaccination.

Harman said it was important to understand the reasons parents were not vaccinating and to encourage them to be honest about their child’s vaccination status. She is encouraging parents who are anti-vaccination to contact her to help her and her team with their research.

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