Suffer the children: the anti-vaxxing stigma

People will be somewhat forgiving of a mother who hasn’t had time to organize her child’s vaccinations but they will be much more harsh in their judgement of mothers who are opposed to the concept of immunization.

It's not just the mothers who will suffer from the resulting stigmitization. Children who aren't vaccinated will also be shunned.

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Those are two of the take-aways of a study by UBC sociology professor Dr. Richard Carpiano and recent UBC sociology grad Nicholas Fritz.

“We want to live in a society where we’re free to make our own decisions but it’s complicated,” Dr. Carpiano says.

He and Fritz conducted a 2015 online survey of 1,469 American respondents who were randomly asked to comment on four scenarios.

The first was a mother who refused to vaccinate her child; the second was a mother who had some concerns and decided to delay some vaccinations; the third described a mother who wanted to vaccinate her child but work and family demands got in the way of making it happen; and the fourth was a mother who made sure her child’s vaccinations were up to date.

Survey respondents then weighed in on such things as how much they blamed the mother and whether they’d let their children play with a child who wasn’t vaccinated. (Carpiano said the survey focused on mothers because they are often the primary decision-makers when it came to their child’s health.)

The study notes that parenting styles are highly judged in North America. 

The number of “anti-vaxxers” is very small, Dr. Carpiano says, but they get a lot of press attention especially now that public health officials are warning that easily preventable diseases, such as measles, whooping cough and polio, are making comeback because of the movement.

“Vaccinations are a victim of their own success,” he says. Young parents today haven’t had to live through a time when there was great fear of these diseases’ impact because they grew up when vaccinations were widely accepted. Today, even though scientists have debunked the only study that said there was a link between vaccinations and autism, there are still people who say vaccinations are too risky.

While the study shows that most people are in favour of policies that require parents to vaccinate their children, they are not as unanimous in their feelings about whether the parent and child should be penalized. Those most in favour of punishment were those who were given the scenario of the anti-vaccination mother.

Dr. Carpiano says previous research shows that telling anti-vaxxers why they’re wrong is the least effective way of changing attitudes, and more likely to be anti-productive. It’s better to focus on the dangers posed by communicable disease.

“I don’t see this study as providing a mandate to a specific policy option but it provides a barometer to what the public thinks about the issues,” he said.

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