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Fam Pract. 2001 Apr;18(2):181-8.

Choosing not to immunize: are parents making informed decisions?

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Pharmacy Department, Lister Hospital, East and North Herts NHS Trust, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, UK.



Childhood immunization is an important aspect of childhood preventive health, world wide, with programmes such as the Expanded Programme on Immunization organized by the World Health Organization. Unlike other countries, the immunization programme is not compulsory in the UK, and the decision whether to immunize a child or not is parental.


The objective of this study was to explore the decision-making process of parents who have chosen not to have their children immunized.


This was a qualitative study, using semi-structured interviews with parents either in their own homes or at their places of work. The study was set in an inner city area with a high level of deprivation. The district immunization co-ordinator and health visitors within the area referred parents to the researcher. Parents subsequently were selected using purposive maximum variation sampling. Data were analysed using consistent and systematic review. An initial coding frame that was derived from the first few transcripts was revised and developed through its application to subsequent transcripts. The final stage of analysis involved comparing the data using the revised coding frame for drawing conclusions and verification.


Interviews were completed with 13 parents. Parents discussed their perceptions of childhood diseases and immunization, and the risk-benefit analysis that occurred between the two. All parents identified the risk of side effects as a reason for choosing not to immunize. A proposed model of the decision-making process that represented the experiences of the parents in this study is presented. In response to the question of immunization, three actions were described by parents: a routine response, an emotional response and delaying the decision by entering a questioning stage followed by a cyclical process of seeking and evaluating information. Key to this model was a stage of reflection that most parents described irrespective of their initial action in response to the question of immunization. Parents also discussed their responsibilities in terms of the consequences of their decisions. Health professionals were perceived as providing unbalanced information that was an obstacle in decision making.


The parents included in this study had chosen not to immunize at least one of their children. Most parents felt they had made an informed decision, based on an assessment of the risks and benefits of immunization and an acceptance of responsibility for that decision. Health professionals were not perceived as providers of balanced information. It is therefore important that parents have easy access to accurate information concerning the pros and cons of treatment, and have the opportunity to discuss their concerns with health professionals.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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