The issue of lowering take-up of vaccinations for measles (MMR 1 and 2) is disturbing and serious (The rising toll of measles: nearly 10m cases and 142,000 deaths, 6 December). However, it is far too easy to blame parents and social media for the problem.
Research that we conducted at Lancaster University in conjunction with Central Lancashire Primary Care Trust (PCT) a few years ago revealed that there was little evidence of systemic hostility to these vaccines among parents of children who had not completed their vaccination programme by the age of five. Rather, the main problems centred upon the delivery of the service itself.
Parents of children who had not received all their vaccinations reported that they had not received letters asking them to attend clinics for these vaccines or, if they had, that it was extremely difficult to attend or to reschedule appointments. As always, the delivery of healthcare was designed to suit staff rather than patients. The facilities at many clinics were reported by such parents as poor and the waiting times far too long. Mothers with more than one child found this particularly off-putting.
The PCT used these findings to set up teams of dedicated health professionals to visit the homes of children who were listed as not having the full complement of vaccinations. During these visits most parents agreed to have their children immunised and rates of MMR2 uptake in particular rose significantly.
With cuts to public health budgets, it is unlikely that such a strategy would be considered currently but the health service needs to recognise its own role in these issues as opposed to – rather conveniently – blaming parents for reading social media.
Emeritus professor of sociology, Queen’s University Belfast
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