Parents' attitudes to childhood immunisation

The vast 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.

Most of the parents who we spoke to said that immunisations for children were important for a number of reasons. Many understood that they were not just protecting their own children and that they had a social responsibility to immunise their children to cut down the spread of potentially dangerous infectious diseases in the rest of the population. They recognised that while children who were unprotected might recover from infection without incurring any lasting problems, the risk of suffering a serious complication from one of the diseases was vastly greater that the possible risks from immunisation. Some also mentioned that with universal immunisation there was a real possibility of eradicating (wiping out) some of these potentially serious diseases.

Others stressed that high levels of immunisation in the community, known as 'herd immunity', protected those children who were most vulnerable, such as those not old enough to be immunised, or those with lowered immune systems, for example, children with leukaemia, who could not be immunised. It is these groups of children who are most likely to suffer complications if they caught these diseases and in some cases they can be fatal. 

Many parents did say that they believed that immunisations in general were important and parents should be socially responsible but if they thought they were putting their child at risk in any way, they would not choose to immunise. 

Some parents commented on how lucky we are to have immunisations in the UK, that they have eliminated some diseases and that parents should take advantage of them. In some countries in the world, such as France and USA, immunisations are compulsory and parents don't have a choice to make. In other countries, immunisations are not available and children often die from infectious diseases or suffer long-term side effects.

A very small number of parents had reservations about immunisations for children. A few personally believed that the diseases were occurring less anyway so there is no longer a need for all children to be immunised. Until these diseases are eradicated (wiped out), every child that is not immunised is at risk of complications if they catch the actual infectious disease itself.

A few of these parents personally believed that building up their child's immune system, through diet and homeopathy, was better than having immunisations. There is no evidence that this in any way substitutes for the protection given by immunisations. While it is true that a child with an underlying health condition is more likely to have complications and/or die from measles, healthy children can be very ill too. Allowing them to catch the diseases means that they run the risk of complications.

A few of these parents personally believed that the immunity derived from actually having the disease was more effective than immunity from vaccines. No immunisation is 100% effective but they do offer a high level of immunity from infectious diseases. Gaining immunity from actually having the disease involves the risk of a child developing a complication.

The occasional parent talked about their personal concern about the rise in the number of cases of asthma, other allergies and autism in the UK and were suspicious that immunisations were contributing to the rise of these illnesses. Some believed that the ingredients in vaccines were not safe for their child. One couple personally believed that immunisations were important for the majority of children but there were some children who should not be immunised.

Last reviewed August 2019.
Last updated October 2015.



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