Vaccine hesitancy linked to community norms, researcher says

As several states grapple with measles outbreaks, a medical anthropologist says some families may be reluctant to vaccinate their children due to community norms, NPR reported.

More than 100 people have been infected with measles this year, according to the CDC. More than 50 of those cases have occurred in southwest Washington State and northwest Oregon, leading Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency Jan. 25.

Clark County, Wash. — the center of the current spate of cases — has an overall vaccination rate of 78 percent, but some schools in the county have rates lower than 40 percent.

Additionally, Washington is one of 17 states that lets parents send their child to public school not completely vaccinated due to a "philosophical or personal objection to the immunization of the child."

Elisa Sobo, PhD, a medical anthropologist and professor at San Diego State University, said some families' reluctance to vaccinate their children may be driven by the desire to conform in a community where most parents are distrustful of vaccines.

To better understand how parents choose not to vaccinate, Dr. Sobo interviewed families at a school with low vaccination rates in California. She found skepticism of vaccines was "socially cultivated."

Parents who think vaccines are dangerous persuaded other parents to believe the same thing by citing fears of "mainstream medicine" harming their children, she found.

More articles on clinical leadership & infection control:
Washington lawmakers seek to limit vaccine exemptions amid measles outbreak
Health officials warn of rare, wind-borne illness in San Diego 
How scientists can use insects to fight superbugs

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