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Social norms strongly influence vaccination decisions and the spread of disease
Date:2/14/2014

Our response to societal pressures about vaccination has a direct effect on the spread of pediatric infectious diseases in areas where inoculation is not mandatory, says new research published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

By incorporating social norms into predictive mathematical modelling, a research team from the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo found that they can foresee the observed patterns of population behaviour and disease spread during vaccine scarestimes when anti-vaccine sentiment is strong.

"If vaccination is not mandatory and disease is rare, then a few parents will be tempted to stop vaccinating their children," said Professor Chris Bauch of Waterloo's Faculty of Mathematics, and one of the study authors. "More parents adopt this behaviour as social norms begin to change and it becomes increasingly acceptable to avoid some vaccines. Obviously, when enough parents are no longer vaccinating, the disease will come back."

In most of North America, pediatric vaccination is mandatory for children enrolled in public education. However, the number of parents applying for exemptions to pediatric vaccination is on the rise. According to Professor Bauch, as that trend continues Canadians will increasingly find themselves in a situation where vaccination coverage has declined and populations are once again susceptible to disease.

"Parents are not cold, clinical rationalists who base their decisions only on data. They are strongly influenced by other parents and what they read," said Professor Bauch. "Our research suggests that health officials needs to have a really good understanding of the social context to better understand vaccine scares and why people refuse vaccines. To do that, we have to develop predictive tools that also reflect social behavior patterns, or we won't be able to accurately represent what is happening during vaccine scares."

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Contact: Pamela Smyth
psmyth@uwaterloo.ca
519-888-4777
University of Waterloo
Source:Eurekalert

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