Making the decision

The decision about whether or not to immunise their child is for some parents one of the most difficult they have to make in their child's first two years of life. Most parents who've had to make a decision about MMR over the last decades will have felt some level of concern as to whether they are doing the right thing. Many will have felt confused and anxious when faced with conflicting information, scaremongering tactics in the media and rumours of conspiracy theories. There is now a huge body of research evidence available which indicates the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines.

Parents who had made a decision about MMR in the last few years said it was now slightly easier to make the decision because so much more evidence is now available to reassure them. 

Some people have strong views on MMR - either in favour of immunisation or against it. As an outsider, it may seem easy to make a rational and objective assessment of the arguments involved but when a decision is required that will affect your child it can be a lot harder.

Since these interviews were made, the research that suggested a connection between autism and MMR vaccine has been completely discredited (Andrew Wakefield's has since been struck off as a doctor in the UK) and the original paper has been retracted by the Lancet, on the grounds that several elements of the paper are incorrect and that some of the claims by the authors were proven to be false (Lancet, 6 Feb 2010, vol 375, issue 9713, page 445. Retraction – Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis and pervasive developmental disorder in children). 

The overwhelming majority of parents believe in immunisation for their children. We have however included here the views of a few parents who do not believe immunisation is right for their own child based on their personal beliefs. Their views represent a small proportion of the population. 

Some parents said that the MMR decision had been very straightforward, generally these parents had a clear view on the value of immunisations for their child.

Gathering Information
It is absolutely right and normal that parents are concerned about the optimal health of their children and it is important that parents seek reliable scientific evidence on which to base their decisions and there is now a mass of this information available.

Most parents sought information to investigate further the issues that had been discussed in the media, either by talking to friends and other parents, to health professionals, looking on the internet or finding the source of the research findings in medical journals. (See 'Information for Making Decisions' section). Several parents thought it was important to gather information from more than one source and to get as broad a view as possible.   

Some of these parents said they didn't look for too much information because they felt it would be confusing and they were already fairly convinced that they were going to immunise their child. 

Others had talked to many different people and gathered a lot of information before they felt able to make a decision. 

When making immunisation decisions every parent should have access to a trained health professional to chat about the risks of catching the diseases and about the benefits and potential risks of immunisation for their own child, and the population in general. In addition to their GP, health visitor or practice nurse, there is also an immunisation advisor in each local health protection unit, whom parents can talk to about their child's immunisations.

Some mothers said it had been one particular piece of information, or talking to a health professional or a friend, which had swayed their final decision. 

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Weighing Up the Risks
After gathering information, parents were able to weigh up the risks of not immunising against the risks of potential side effects from the immunisations (see 'Weighing up the risks') and decide for themselves what was the right decision for their child. Parents stressed that however much information they gathered, ultimately the final decision was theirs and for some parents making that decision had felt like a huge responsibility.

Some parents said that once they'd made a decision they just wanted to get the immunisation done.

“It was, I suppose something that had been preying on my mind for quite a long time. But once I'd made the decision, I felt quite happy, like a weight had been lifted. I thought, “Right okay, I've made a decision. I've made it for what I believe to be good reasons so I'm just going to go with it now.”  [Interview 33 - Mother of a 17-month-old boy.]

Making decisions together
Most parents came to a joint agreement about the immunisation decisions for their children. Often mothers took the lead by gathering information and showing it to their partners. Many said it was important that they both agreed with the decision made, so that they couldn't blame each other should there be any negative consequences.


Last reviewed August 2019.
Last updated October 2015.


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