Sometimes Your Heart Says ‘I Don't Know’: Insights From Parents of Undervaccinated Children

Published:October 10, 2022DOI:


      Study Objective

      To explore drivers of suboptimal vaccination rates by understanding why parents without strong antivaccine beliefs do not fully vaccinate their children.


      Four focus groups were conducted in Washington state with 41 parents of children aged 24 to 48 months who delayed, declined, or missed some but not all vaccines. During the focus groups, parents were asked about reasons their child was undervaccinated, information that might address their concerns, and additional support they needed. Transcripts were analyzed using template analysis with deductive and inductive codes.


      Focus groups identified multiple reasons for parents deciding to delay or decline vaccines for their children, including issues of individualism and control. The groups emphasized the impact of personal circumstances, such as changes in insurance, on whether children were vaccinated. Our data also shed light on the reasons that parents do vaccinate their children, including school vaccination requirements, negative experiences with vaccine-preventable diseases, and a family tradition of vaccinating. Focus group participants offered suggestions for improving vaccine communication with parents such as having more parent/patient-friendly vaccine information, providing forums to discuss their concerns, and offering vaccination information in advance of well-child appointments.


      To achieve the full benefit of vaccines on individual and community health, we need better ways to address vaccine hesitancy and decrease barriers. We suggest that many hesitant parents would benefit from more dialog with health care providers about vaccines, more approachable educational materials, and enforcement of existing policies requiring vaccines in schools and childcare facilities.


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