Measles vaccination more likely when child's, not society's, benefits are stressed

As the U.S. continues to experience the highest number of measles cases this year since the highly contagious viral illness was eliminated nationwide in 2000, health officials and researchers are looking for ways to keep vaccination rates from dipping too low.

To get better insight into how parents decide to vaccinate their children for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), investigators at the Indiana University School of Medicine polled 802 parents of infants younger than 12 months to determine their willingness to have their child vaccinated for MMR.

Parents who read text highlighting direct benefits to their own child as opposed to only seeing basic information about the MMR vaccine or information stressing societal benefits were significantly more likely to indicate that they would have their infant vaccinated.

The study tested parents' responses to four different messages about the benefits of MMR vaccination--the first consisting of standard information about the vaccine from the CDC; the second containing the CDC information plus additional information highlighting the vaccine's direct benefits to the child receiving the vaccine; the third stressing the benefits to society at large; and the fourth emphasizing both society benefits and benefits to an individual child.

Researchers found that combining details about societal benefits with information on benefits to a parent's own child had the same impact on parents' vaccine intentions as information emphasizing the benefits only to the child.

"For parents in our study, mentioning the direct positive impact for their own child trumped mention of societal benefits," said study author Dr. Kristin Hendrix, an assistant professor of pediatrics and a Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University Center for Bioethics affiliated scientist, in a statement. "To me, this indicates that healthcare providers and public health officials should be explicit in mentioning the benefits of MMR vaccination directly to the child to help counter parents' over-inflation of risk of vaccination and related anxiety."

A deadly childhood disease that causes a severe rash and fever, measles remains a public health threat in the U.S. as the number of measles cases this year swells to 593, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles vaccination in the U.S. held steady from 2010 to 2012, hovering around 92%, according the World Health Organization. But recent measles outbreaks in schools and other communities throughout the country have raised concerns about whether vaccination rates might be slipping.

According to a July report in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, coverage for two or more doses of the MMR vaccine--which is sold by Sanofi ($SNY), Merck ($MRK) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK)--differed vastly depending on geographic location--from 83.2% coverage in West Virginia to 97.4% in New Hampshire and Louisiana.

- get the study abstract in Pediatrics
- read the press release