Despite warnings from the medical community and the outbreak of preventable diseases, some parents refuse to vaccinate their children. Here, a sociologist puts this group into a cultural context to examine their thinking.
Reich (Sociology/Univ. of Colorado, Denver; Fixing Families: Parents, Power, and the Child Welfare System, 2005, etc.) interviewed parents and health care providers (primarily in Colorado), as well as researchers, attorneys, and policymakers, and attended meetings of advocates on both sides of the vaccination issue. Individual stories, sometimes including the voices of participants in her study, put a human face on this study. The author found that children who are unvaccinated or undervaccinated are not just from poor families who miss appointments or lack access to health care but also from higher-income families who actively reject vaccination. Her research shows that it is white, college-educated mothers who believe that by not vaccinating, they are protecting their children from harm. Reich notes that these mothers, whom public health officials call free riders, have the time and resources to explore the vaccination issue and that they question both the safety and necessity of vaccination, are suspicious of the link between government regulatory agencies and the pharmaceutical industry, see themselves as experts on their children’s health, and are confident of their abilities to make good decisions about them. Reich argues that the children of mothers who place a higher value on individual choice than on community obligation are protected by the large vaccinated population and that they pose a risk to the unvaccinated or undervaccinated children of families with fewer resources. In the final chapter, she focuses on finding a middle ground in the ongoing debate.
Recent outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough are focusing attention on this issue, making Reich’s able contribution especially pertinent.