Mothers Who Refuse Vaccines For Their Children Dislike “One-Size-Fits-All” Approach Interview with:
Jennifer A. Reich PhD
University of Colorado Denver
Department of Sociology
Denver, CO 80208

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Reich: Public health practitioners have been concerned about rising rates of vaccine refusal and hesitance. This study examines how mothers account for the decision to delay or opt out of vaccines. This study shows that contrary to popular representation, these mothers are not ignorant, but rather see themselves as experts on their own children and as best qualified to decide whether their children need vaccines. They also trust that their intensive mothering practices, including extended breastfeeding, consumption of organic foods, and social monitoring of their children will protect them against disease.

Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Reich: These mothers see themselves as able to control risk of disease exposure and their children’s baseline health in ways that are inconsistent with how parents have historically discussed infectious disease. When we think, for example, of fears parents expressed of polio or diseases that seemed random and devastating, these mothers’ views of themselves as able to manage disease risk is striking. It also represents broader cultural expectations that mothers take responsible for their children’s health, research products they may consume, and advocate for their children with schools, extracurricular activities, or healthcare systems. Of course, we see frequent discussions of personalized medicine, personal responsibility for health promotion, and individualized risk calculations, so it is unexpected but not surprising to see these mothers insist that the current vaccine schedule is not adequately personalized to their children, in their lifestyle, with their efforts to be good mothers who optimize their children’s health.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Reich: Practitioners are struggling to find ways to address parent resistance to vaccines and public health. My research suggests that parents see themselves as experts on their own children and do not see how public health population-level data that communicates risks of disease or safety of vaccines are relevant to them. They see themselves as investing significant time and resources in supporting their own children’s health so communicating about broader trends feels irrelevant. Pediatricians and other who provide well care to children should consider how to acknowledge parents’ goals to be seen as experts and to engage their beliefs and concerns about vaccines and infectious diseases in ways that feel personal. They see the vaccine schedule as a “one-size-fits-all” approach to healthcare which feels unacceptable given their belief that services are most effective when customized to their own children’s needs.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Reich: Research on parents who opt out of vaccines highlight that these families tend to be white, have a college-educated mother, and higher family income, and two parents in the home. My study illustrates how mothers use their resources to advocate for their own children, but not necessarily all children. Moving forward, we need to understand more about the children who are undervaccinated in the U.S., who lack access to consistent care, and whose parents may feel ambivalent about vaccines but do not claim this kind of expertise with which to challenge their children’s physicians.


Gender & Society 0891243214532711, first published on May 9, 2014 doi:10.1177/0891243214532711