March 8, 2019

Why Some Parents Seek Vaccine Exemptions

UA researchers surveyed parents in Arizona to get their reasons.

Amid a recent uptick in measles cases nationwide, Gov. Doug Ducey told reporters he would not sign any legislation that could increase the number of unvaccinated children in the state. Under state law, a student attending kindergarten through 12th grade can get exemptions for some vaccines if their parents submit a "Personal Exemption Form" from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Kacey Ernst and Heidi Pottinger surveyed parents in Arizona about reasons they may seek exemptions. Both are with the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. They discussed their research with Christopher Conover.

"Some of the things we identified were that if you have social media accounts there's a lot of information online and it's presented in a way that sounds somewhat scientific, so it's very easy for people to be led into misconceptions about vaccines," Ernst said. According to Ernst, Scottsdale and Sedona have high rates of vaccine exemptions. "Overall, Arizona actually looks pretty good when you look at our immunization levels, but when you break it down into geographic clusters some of them are very alarmingly low," Ernst said.

Parents who chose to exempt their children from vaccines had misconceptions about how the immune system works, according to Pottinger. "There was a tendency to believe that immunity through natural infection was better than immunity through vaccination," Pottinger said.

When it comes to convincing skeptical families of the importance of vaccines, Pottinger said it's important to acknowledge they are doing what they believe is in their child's best interest. "Really, it's about showing them and telling them we're all in this together, and coming at it from a place of compassion," Pottinger said.

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