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Vaccine. 2012 Feb 27;30(10):1855-64. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2011.12.127. Epub 2012 Jan 9.

U.K. parents' decision-making about measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine 10 years after the MMR-autism controversy: a qualitative analysis.

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  • 1Centre for Patient Safety and Service Quality, Imperial College London, St. Mary's Campus, London W2 1PG, UK.



Public concern about an unsubstantiated link between MMR vaccine and autism stemmed from a 1998 paper by Dr Andrew Wakefield and colleagues, and the substantial media coverage which that work attracted. Though the Wakefield paper is now discredited and an MMR-autism link has never been demonstrated empirically, this concern has manifested in over a decade of suboptimal MMR uptake. Few qualitative studies have explored parents' MMR decision-making since uptake began to improve in 2004. This study updates and adds methodological rigour to the evidence base.


24 mothers planning to accept, postpone or decline the first MMR dose (MMR1) for their 11-36 month-old children, described their decision-making in semi-structured interviews. Mothers were recruited via General Practice, parents' groups/online forums, and chain referral. MMR1 status was obtained from General Practice records 6 months post-interview. Interview transcripts were coded and interpreted using a modified Grounded Theory approach.


Five themes were identified: MMR vaccine and controversy; Social and personal consequences of MMR decision; Health professionals and policy; Severity and prevalence of measles, mumps and rubella infections; Information about MMR and alternatives. Results indicated that MMR1 acceptors were sympathetic toward Wakefield as a person, but universally rejected his study which sparked the controversy; parents opting for single vaccines expressed the sense that immune overload is not a consideration but that not all three components of MMR are warranted by disease severity; and MMR1 rejectors openly criticised other parents' MMR decisions and decision-making.


This study corroborated some previous qualitative work but indicated that the shrinking group of parents now rejecting MMR comprises mainly those with more extreme and complex anti-immunisation views, whilst parents opting for single vaccines may use second-hand information about the controversy. In response, policymakers and practitioners should revise their expectations of today's MMR decision-makers, and their methods for supporting them.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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