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Br J Gen Pract. Nov 2001; 51(472): 904–910.
PMCID: PMC1314147

Parents' perspectives on the MMR immunisation: a focus group study.


BACKGROUND: The uptake of the combined measles, mumps and rubella immunisation (MMR) in Britain has fallen since 1998, when a link was hypothesised with the development of bowel disorders and childhood autism. Despite reassurances about the safety of MMR, uptake levels remain lower than optimal. We need to understand what influences parents' decisions on whether to accept MMR or not so that health professionals can provide a service responsive to their needs. AIM: To investigate what influences parents' decisions on whether to accept or refuse the primary MMR immunisation and the impact of the recent controversy over its safety. DESIGN: Qualitative study using focus group discussions. SETTING: Forty-eight parents, whose youngest child was between 14 months and three years old, attended groups at community halls in six localities in Avon and Gloucestershire. METHODS: Purposive sampling strategy was used to include parents from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. Three groups comprised parents who had accepted MMR and three groups comprised parents who had refused MMR. Data analysis used modified grounded theory techniques incorporating the constant comparative method. RESULTS: All parents felt that the decision about MMR was difficult and stressful, and experienced unwelcome pressure from health professionals to comply. Parents were not convinced by Department of Health reassurances that MMR was the safest and best option for their children and many had accepted MMR unwillingly. Four key factors influenced parents' decisions: (a) beliefs about the risks and benefits of MMR compared with contracting the diseases, (b) information from the media and other sources about the safety of MMR, (c) confidence and trust in the advice of health professionals and attitudes towards compliance with this advice, and (d) views on the importance of individual choice within Government policy on immunisation. CONCLUSIONS: Parents wanted up-to-date information about the risks and benefits of MMR to be available in advance of their immunisation appointment. Many parents did not have confidence in the recommendations of health professionals because they were aware that GPs needed to reach immunisation targets. Most parents would, however, welcome more open discussion about immunisation with health professionals.

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Selected References

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