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Soc Sci Med. 2017 Jul;185:127-136. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.05.014. Epub 2017 May 6.

Public attitudes toward child undervaccination: A randomized experiment on evaluations, stigmatizing orientations, and support for policies.

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Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia, Canada. Electronic address:
National Core for Neuroethics, University of British Columbia, Canada.


Child undervaccination is a complex public health problem and a contentious social and political issue. Efforts to increase vaccination coverage require understanding how the public evaluates different reasons for child undervaccination, which may influence attitudes, stigmatizing behaviors, and support for vaccination policies. We conducted a vignette experiment with a United States national online sample (n = 1469) to investigate how and why different undervaccination actions shape evaluations (blame, anger, sympathy, differentness, credibility, dangerousness), stigmatizing orientations (social distance, discrimination), and support for particular policies (e.g., research funding, belief exemptions, fines). Each participant was randomly assigned to read one of four vignettes that described a mother who either refused vaccines, delayed vaccines, encountered social barriers to obtaining vaccines, or was up-to-date on vaccines for her child. Compared to the up-to-date condition, each undervaccination action predicted significantly more negative evaluations and stigmatizing orientations. Vaccine refusal was the most negatively appraised. Differences in social distance and discrimination were explained by negative evaluations about the parent. These evaluations and orientations predicted support for a range of policies. Negative parental evaluations were associated with increased support for more severe policies. We discuss the implications of these findings for addressing undervaccination and informing health scholarship on stigma.


Policy; Public attitudes; Stigma; Survey-embedded experiment; United States; Vaccinations; Vaccine hesitancy; Vignette experiment

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