Anxiety about vaccine safety could be driving parents to seek information from other sources.

A new study from Australian researchers has found that expectant parents are encountering misinformation about children’s vaccinations on social media because they feel inadequately informed by some healthcare professionals.

The review of thirty-one existing papers from high to middle income countries from around the world, including Australia, determined concerns about vaccine safety cause considerable anxiety amongst expectant parents with fears of adverse reactions and long-term side effects.

Poor healthcare relationships can result in vaccine refusal because of safety and other concerns, according to lead researcher Susan Smith from Flinders University. 

“In Australia for example, childhood immunisation uptake is high recently, achieving over 95 per cent coverage for five-year-old children, but there is significant uptake shortfall in some communities, as well as in the uptake of antenatal immunisations. This shortfall in immunisation uptake suggests varying degrees of vaccine hesitancy,” Ms Smith says.

“The research indicates multiple factors influence decisions to accept or reject vaccines based on perceived safety concerns including false reports of autism links in the case of measles concerningly persist despite significant evidence to debunk this theory.

“Importantly, some healthcare professionals report feeling inadequately prepared for the role of immunisation promotion and provision so we can safely assume they feel further training and support is needed.”

The review also reveals that education and support in vaccine decision making is best provided during pregnancy for expectant mums, and midwives are best placed to deliver information, but many feel underprepared for this role.

“There is no doubt that educating and informing parents is a complex task so improved healthcare provider education, and a consistent approach may help in addressing this.

Australia has adopted a consistent approach by refusing to accept non-medical exemptions to vaccination, however, this is not the case in other countries,” Ms Smith said. 

“Eighteen states in the USA still allow non-medical reasons for exemption, including religious and philosophical reasons for vaccine exemptions which don’t help build confidence.”

The research also shows the desire for a more natural lifestyle, often described as salutogenic parenting, has been associated with hesitancy around vaccination.

“Parents have reported using a focus on health and wellbeing parenting as a means of supporting the wellbeing of children and this is an area where healthcare professionals are well placed to address concerns and correct misinformation,” she said.