Views from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Image: Giving the HPV vaccine in Mwanza, Tanzania

Understanding public attitudes towards childhood vaccination

Recent vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks around the world have highlighted the need to better understand what the public think, feel and do about vaccination. This week, academics, public health officials, researchers and students gathered at the School to discuss these issues in a symposium on Public Engagement and Risk Communication in Childhood Vaccination.

Dr Helen Bedford from the Institute of Child Health at University College London (UCL) discussed the determinants of vaccine uptake. She highlighted some of the cases from the UK’s Millennium Cohort study on vaccine uptake and outlined reasons for declining vaccination levels.

In his presentation on Parental perspectives on MMR and other vaccines, Dr Nick Sevdalis from Imperial College London explored the behavioural factors driving vaccine decision-making and dealt with the question of anticipated regret among parents who had declined vaccination opportunities.

The School’s Dr Heidi Larson spoke on the nature of risk and its management and mitigation.  She discussed her research from the Vaccine Confidence Project and how this investigates the relationship between trust and risk. She stressed the importance of allowing people to have a degree of autonomy in making their own decisions about vaccination, and emphasised that public engagement means that health professionals and governments must listen to people’s concerns about vaccines.

Tracking rumours around vaccines is a key part of Dr Larson’s work, and she highlighted that these rumours could often be very persistent, reappearing long after the event that gave rise to them.

Associate Professor Julie Leask and Dr Hal Willaby of the University of Sydney introduced an analysis of different levels of vaccine hesitancy in their talk on Engaging with parents in the clinic: The Vaccine Communication Framework. They also discussed appropriate goals and engagement strategies for health professionals confronted with the vaccine hesitant.

Professor Leask gave details of the framework that she and colleagues are designing to increase satisfaction between healthcare professional and patients to encourage vaccine uptake.

Results from the first-ever randomised control trial on the use of decision aids to support informed parental decision-making for the MMR vaccine (the DECIDA study) were presented by Dr Cath Jackson from the University of York and Professor Francine Cheater from the University of East Anglia. The trial compared the impact on parents of receiving either a web-based decision aid or a health leaflet, against a control group which received no additional intervention.

The symposium closed with a panel discussion which allowed audience members to debate points raised in presentations, contribute their personal experiences and share the observations and findings of ongoing research.

Copies of the presentations made at the symposium are .

Image: Giving the HPV vaccine in Mwanza, Tanzania. Credit: Deborah Watson-Jones

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