Kids of anti-vaxxers deal with more stigma

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - CAMILLE BAINS

VAN­COU­VER — Chil­dren who aren’t vac­ci­nated face harsher judg­ment than their par­ents who re­fused im­mu­niza­tion, says a study ex­am­in­ing at­ti­tudes in­volv­ing a con­tentious pub­lic health is­sue for which Canada lacks a na­tional vaccination strat­egy.

Other kids may not want to sit next to un­vac­ci­nated stu­dents at school, work on projects with them or go on a play date at the child’s house, said Prof. Richard Carpi­ano, lead study au­thor and a so­ci­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia.

Chil­dren of so-called anti-vaxxers deal with more stigma re­gard­less of the rea­sons for their par­ents’ de­ci­sion, Carpi­ano said of the study that fo­cused on moth­ers be­cause they typ­i­cally make a fam­ily’s health de­ci­sions.

Some par­ents don’t want their chil­dren vac­ci­nated based on longde­bunked fears that vac­cines cause autism, mer­cury poi­son­ing or au­toim­mune dis­or­ders.

“Child vaccination is a com­plex prob­lem that poses sig­nif­i­cant health con­se­quences for the child and the com­mu­nity,” said the study pub­lished this month in the jour­nal So­cial Science and Medicine.

It said pub­lic health ef­forts to ad­dress the is­sue re­quire an un­der­stand­ing of par­ents’ mo­tives and how the gen­eral pub­lic in­ter­prets them be­cause of con­cerns about the high risk of un­vac­ci­nated or un­der­vac­ci­nated kids spread­ing in­fec­tious diseases, such as measles, mumps and whoop­ing cough.

The study was based on data col­lected from a July 2015 on­line sur­vey of 1,469 U.S. re­spon­dents, though Carpi­ano said the re­sults are just as ap­pli­ca­ble in Canada.

Re­spon­dents were ran­domly as­signed to read one of four sce­nar­ios. They in­cluded a mother who re­fused to vac­ci­nate her child, an­other who de­layed im­mu­niza­tion over safety con­cerns, while a third mother’s job and fam­ily de­mands left no time for med­i­cal ap­point­ments, and a fourth, who rep­re­sented a con­trol group, en­sured her child re­ceived the rec­om­mended vac­ci­na­tions.

“Peo­ple may be more likely to blame and ex­press anger to­ward par­ents who in­ten­tion­ally choose to refuse or de­lay vac­ci­na­tions for their chil­dren, but more likely to ex­press sym­pa­thy for a par­ent who en­coun­ters bar­ri­ers to ac­cess­ing vac­ci­na­tions,” the study says, adding chil­dren face dis­crim­i­na­tion re­gard­less of the rea­sons they were not vac­ci­nated.

Sur­vey re­spon­dents with the strong­est re­ac­tions were more likely to sup­port poli­cies such as par­ents be­ing no­ti­fied about vaccination rates at their child’s school or kids be­ing banned from school un­til they’re up-to-date with im­mu­niza­tions, Carpi­ano said.

“When I tell peo­ple I study this I get some very en­er­getic re­ac­tions, to put it kindly,” he said. “Peo­ple im­me­di­ately say, ‘Oh, those crazy peo­ple,’ or ‘Those peo­ple are nuts.’ It’s hit­ting at a dear-held value about health, about child wel­fare, about par­ent­ing and more broadly, about com­mu­nity.”

Carpi­ano said pol­icy-mak­ers should fo­cus vaccination mes­sages on par­ents who de­lay im­mu­niza­tion, of­ten as they seek in­for­ma­tion, rather than on the small but vo­cal mi­nor­ity of “anti-vaxxers.”

Im­mu­niza­tion rates in Canada vary among prov­inces but the is­sue is com­plex be­cause there is no na­tional plan that mon­i­tors rates, which are be­lieved to be as low as 85 per cent but should be closer to 95 per cent, he said.

In Ontario, for ex­am­ple, stu­dents whose vaccination records aren’t up-to-date can be sus­pended from school for up to 20 days un­der the Im­mu­niza­tion of School Pupils Act.

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Chil­dren of so-called anti-vaxxers deal with more stigma re­gard­less of the rea­sons for their par­ents’ de­ci­sion, a study has found.

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