Immunisation

What type of information do parents want?

When being informed about their child's immunisations, parents would like information that is balanced, unbiased and presents both sides of the argument. Many believed that the information currently available was biased towards either a pro or anti-immunisation perspective and parents desperately wanted objective information to help them make the right choice for their child. 

Parents wanted more detailed information about the risks and side effects of the immunisations. Many would like more information on the chances and probabilities of side effects/reactions occurring from the vaccines and also more data on the likelihood of complications or symptoms occurring if their child caught any of the diseases. Information in the United Kingdom on adverse (bad) vaccine reactions is not collected reliably and therefore cannot be assessed accurately (World Health Organisation). However, the system used to collect adverse vaccine reactions, known as the 'yellow card' scheme, is one of the better ones in the world and it does occasionally lead to the withdrawal of products.

Some parents also wanted information to be more available on the ingredients of the vaccines. Every parent should have access to a health professional to chat about the risks of catching the diseases and the benefits and potential risks of immunisation for their own child, and the population in general. More comprehensive information, including the vaccine product insert sheets, should be given to help parents make their decision. Health professionals should assess contraindications in relation to the individual child.

Information that failed to provide data on the risks or potential reactions from the vaccines alienated parents and damaged their trust in the reliability of the information being given.  

The overwhelming majority of parents believe in immunisation for their children. We have however included here the views of a few parents who do not believe immunisation is right for their own child based on their personal beliefs. Their views represent a small proportion of the population.

When discussing their child's immunisations with a health professional, many parents wanted the opportunity to discuss their concerns and not to feel forced into immunising or to feel that their decision had already been made. 

Some would like information leaflets to be sent with the letter telling them of the date that their child's immunisation is due. Others preferred a conversation with a health professional and then leaflets to be given for parents to take away to help them make their decision. One mother thought that it was the responsibility of health professionals to make sure that parents are given comprehensive information rather than them finding it from other sources, which may be providing inaccurate information.  

Some parents wanted more information about the diseases that the vaccines provide protection from.    

Parents wanted to know more about the reasons for the changes that have been made to the immunisation programme over the years. For example:

  • what led the government to decide that it was necessary to immunise children?
  • why did they change to a combined MMR vaccine from the single measles mumps and rubella vaccines?
  • why did they change from the DTP (3 in 1) to the DTaP/IPV/Hib (5 in 1)?
  • what are the implications of these changes?

One mother had found it useful to be told about MMR on a larger scale, that it had been used in other countries for many years without any ill effects. 

Information being given to parents on possible reactions varied across the country. Some parents wanted to be informed more clearly about the possible reactions to expect after their child's immunisations, including how ill their child could be, for how long and whether reactions could differ according to each set of immunisations. Some also wanted more information about what they should do if a reaction occurred. One mother would have found it useful to be told that she could give paracetamol to her child after his first immunisation. Giving paracetamol after immunisations is now not recommended for most injections, but the Men B vaccination (at 2 months, 4 months and 12 months) can cause high fevers so parents are now advised to:
 
“Administer 2.5ml liquid paracetamol at the time or shortly after the vaccine and repeat for 2 further doses 4–6h later.” - GP Update Handbook Spring 2014.
 
Other parents felt that the standard information leaflets provided had been given enough information for their needs.

Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated October 2015.

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