Numerous studies have demonstrated the health and subsequent economic benefits of vaccinations, yet many parents around the world still choose not to vaccinate their children. While in Europe, most “anti-vaxxers” cite anthroposophy, or spiritual philosophies, as their reason against vaccination, a new study published in the Medical Anthropology Quarterly shows that this is not the case in the United States. Instead, the paper argues that parents in the United States hold anti-vaccination views primarily due to peer pressure and a need to conform to community norms (1).
Elisha J. Sobo, the author of the study, provides evidence that most of these un- or under-vaccinated children attend private, alternative schools, known as Waldorf schools. These schools promote holistic curricula, with an emphasis on moral and spiritual development, which are believed to be intrinsically linked to the health of the physical body. Waldorf schools also tend to create close communities that stigmatize vaccinations, antibiotics, and other Western medicines (2). As a result, parents who may have initially had no opinion regarding vaccination became strikingly opposed to vaccination after joining Waldorf communities by enrolling their children in such schools (1).
Sobo also addresses parents’ education level as a potential factor in promoting anti-vaccination views. Although some studies showed a positive correlation between education level and vaccination rate, parents included in this study were highly educated (3). This suggests that their anti-vaccination views were not due to simple ignorance. Instead, the study shows that parents believed that they could find alternative methods to promote pediatric health, despite evidence showing that “no other public health effort except sanitized water has had such a… beneﬁcial impact” (1).
Additionally, Sobo explores tactics to increase vaccination rates, including positive and negative incentives, and public access to vaccination provider assessments (3). However, further studies are needed to fully characterize the social connections and perspectives of anti-vaccination communities in order to devise effective interventions (1).
- Sobo, E. J. (2015, May 15), Social Cultivation of Vaccine Refusal and Delay among Waldorf (Steiner) School Parents. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 29: 381–399. Retrieved November 1, 2015 from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/maq.12214/full
- Fischer, H., Binting, S., Bockelbrink, A., Heusser, P., Hueck, C., Keil, T., . . . Witt, C. (2013). The Effect of Attending Steiner Schools during Childhood on Health in Adulthood: A Multicentre Cross-Sectional Study. PLoS ONE. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073135
- Briss, PA et al. (2000). Recommendations regarding interventions to improve vaccination coverage in children, adolescents, and adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 18(1 Suppl), 92-96. Retrieved November 1, 2015, from www.thecommunityguide.org/vaccines/vpd-ajpm-recs.pdf