A new study claims that American parents who do not have their children vaccinated against disease often do so because of what they read on social media websites.
The study was led by Emily Brunson, who conducted the research as an anthropology graduate student at the University of Washington, but is now an assistant professor of anthropology at Texas State University.
While many of these parents were influenced by friends, family and other non-medical peer recommendations, the strongest factor for doubters was the non-medical advice that they got on social media websites.
"Social media was more important in terms of predicting what parents decide to do than any other factor, including parents’ own opinions,” Brunson told Time magazine. "Parents’ people networks matter a ton. Having those conversations with your sister, with your parent, with your friends matter a lot more than we thought.”
Brunson's team surveyed 196 parents of children, 18 months or younger, in a Seattle county with vaccination rates below the U.S. average.
The study found that 126 of these parents followed vaccination recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while 70 delayed vaccination, partially vaccinated or didn’t vaccinate.
Parents who didn’t follow vaccination advice and rejected science were more likely to have anti-vaccine books, websites and magazine articles that they turned to for vaccine-related information. Especially popular is the debunked claim that vaccinations cause autism.
"If we want to improve vaccination rates, communication needs to be directed to the public at large,” said Brunson.