Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The psychological barriers facing MMR promotion campaigns

A focus group study of parents' attitudes towards interventions promoting uptake of the MMR vaccine suggests it is better for health advice to be seen as independent from government.

The findings come after the General Medical Council ruled yesterday that Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who first suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, was guilty of serious professional misconduct.

The MMR vaccine protects children against measles, mumps and rubella. Unfortunately the number of UK parents vaccinating their children plummeted in the wake of Wakefield's 1998 Lancet study, since discredited and un-replicated, which purported to show a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Today vaccination rates remain at around 85 per cent, compared with the desired rate of 90 to 95 per cent required for herd immunity (whereby even the unvaccinated are safe).

For the new study, Benjamin Gardner and colleagues analysed five focus group interviews they held with 28 parents in London. The parents were asked for their responses to three 'motivation-based' interventions (a website; an information pack; and parent-led group discussions) and three 'organisational interventions' (health care workers acting as immunisation champions; mobile vaccination units; legislation to penalise non-compliers).

Five key themes emerged. Parents felt they didn't have enough information, especially in relation to the dangers associated with not vaccinating. Government sources were not trusted. By contrast, other parents were trusted: 'Parents trust advice from other parents,' one mother said. '[You] take it on board. You listen to them.' Parents also revealed they were biased towards risk-related information. And they misunderstood balance, believing that pro- and anti-MMR arguments should be given equal weight even though the scientific evidence overwhelming favours MMR vaccination.

Gardner's team said a number of practical implications emerged from their findings. In particular, promotional MMR campaigns are likely to be better received if they appear to be independent of government and if they are fronted by parents. More information is needed about the risks of non-vaccination. And care should be taken when highlighting the small risks associated with vaccination - parents are likely to zoom in on these.

The researchers acknowledged their study has some limitations, most notably that the majority of the parents involved had actually vaccinated their children. Nonetheless, they said their results 'highlight important psychological barriers and facilitators that may determine whether MMR promotion interventions are effective.'

ResearchBlogging.orgGardner B, Davies A, McAteer J, & Michie S (2010). Beliefs underlying UK parents' views towards MMR promotion interventions: a qualitative study. Psychology, health & medicine, 15 (2), 220-30 PMID: 20391239

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Also on the Digest: How to promote the MMR vaccine.

1 comment:

Jennifer Poole said...

As a health practitioner and psychologist, I have noticed a desire for the BPS to align itself with the medical profession in promoting MMR. This is not our job. We are psychologists, not doctors. There is plenty of evidence of harm from MMR and other vaccines, for those who wish to see it, not least the personal narratives of those affected. Dr Wakefield's appauling treatment by the GMC and the media is not something of which we should approve as psychologists, and we should not be helping to frighten parents into making decisions (e.g. your other article which suggests it is best to make them feel they are not protecting their children if they dont vacinate, in order to get them to). Such bullying and manipulaitng tactics belong to the pharmaceutical companies who have produced the research of the vaccines safety, and not to those of us who wish to retain our integrity in this shameful situation. Parents have justifiable concerns about vaccines and psychologists should be seen as supporting their legal right to choose how best to protect their children from harm - including from medical procedures.

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