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Immunisation

Information from friends, family & other parents

It is absolutely right and normal that parents are concerned about the health of their children. It's important that parents find reliable scientific evidence on which to base their decisions, and there is now a mass of this information available.  

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.

Family members and friends who had children were often seen as an important source of information for parents when making their decisions about immunisations. 

Parents' mothers or grandmothers could often provide information and share experiences of infectious diseases before immunisation was available. (See 'Parent's views of the diseases'). In some families, the reasons why their own parents had chosen to immunise them, had an influence on parents' decisions. 

 

Her grandmother told her what life was like before immunisations were available.

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I have to say just prior to me having it done my, I used to visit my granny quite a lot, well, every week, and she said that when she had her children i.e. my mum and my aunties and uncles they, immunisation wasn't available. And she said when her youngest daughter, my mum's youngest sibling was born, some vaccines began to be available. And she said the queue of women just queuing up to get their babies done, you know, she said they were going in the clinic and out with their babies because they had all witnessed at that time babies dying or being terribly ill and having long, life lasting effects of illnesses. And so it was an amazing opportunity for them. So she was sort of guiding me that way also because she had experienced both with immunisation and it not being available, and also seeing her children suffer as a result of the illnesses. 

 
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In Orthodox Jewish families, parents often follow what decision their own mothers made about...

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Quite a lot of influence really. When I did my survey lots of people said, 'Oh, I give immunisation because my mother did. My mother gave me, and I give my children'. Yes, they just follow on. It's a family tradition. Because Jewish religion is based on tradition. And it's also our way of thinking really that everything that we do, I mean there are people who are called returnees, who are coming from a totally secular Jewish background, who have just found their roots as an adult, and that's one set of the community. But, somebody like me, who's Orthodox Jewish from birth, most of how I run my life is what my parents taught me and how I've seen in their house. So I guess immunisation is just another part of that structure.

Friends and family members who had links to the medical profession were important in providing information to help parents with their decisions. Parents said these sources were particularly valuable because they could trust the information they were receiving and they had more time to discuss their concerns. Many parents felt there was no opportunity to spend time with their GP discussing their concerns. Every parent should have access to a trained health professional to chat about the risks of catching the diseases, and about the benefits and potential risks of immunisation for their own child and the population in general (see 'Information from health professionals').

 

She trusted her brother's advice because of the information he gathered through his job.

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I had somewhere else to go to for information, and my sister-in-law used to be a health visitor. I mean a long, long time ago but all those little links it means I can check what's being told to me with someone outside of it and get another informed opinion. So that's very useful and not everyone has that. But yes certainly has helped me, I trust my brother implicitly and if he says 'It's safe,' then I trust him that it's safe. So you know, because he probably has more insight in to, he has a lot of information at his hands and maybe sometimes as much as the doctors do but he gets both sides of the argument because he's trying to write a balanced, you know they're trying to do a balanced piece so he'll see it from both sides.
 
 

She talked to family friends who were doctors about their decisions for their own children or...

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I talked to dad and various doctor friends that he had and asked what they'd done with their children and grandchildren. I wanted to know very much people who had given their children the jab and who had been fine, particularly medical people who'd given their children the jab and it had been fine. So I suppose in a way I was geared towards finding people who'd had it and it had been all right, because I did want to be able to go and have it done. But I just needed some support for it.

But I was also aware that they had a government slant, that the government was very much pushing for it. And therefore I wanted to talk to them as a friend, on a friendly basis as to what they would do with their own children rather than just what the line was from the government. And fortunately there were a lot around that were saying, 'We'll absolutely immunise, and the MMR's fine and it to our knowledge is safe'.  

As part of the process of making a decision, parents often talked to other mothers at nurseries and playgroups about the information they'd found, and the reasons for the decisions they had made. Some reported that conversations about MMR were very heated and they didn't want to get too involved. Although parents acquired information from their friends and from other parents, the right decision for their child was always one they made for themselves.

 

A friend's decisions for her own children had an influence on her decision.

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But one friend in particular who is, who is very into an alternative lifestyle, she decided to have all three of her girls, she's got three girls under six and they've all been vaccinated, given the MMR. And I was quite surprised and I talked at length with her about it and came away feeling well, you know, she is someone whose opinions I respect, whose lifestyle I respect although I couldn't live like that myself and she's done, did a lot of research into it and has decided that it's a good thing to do. And she did have a big influence on my decision as well.

 

A doctor friend gave her advice after her daughter had a reaction to the first immunisations.

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I went away and spoke to, I didn't really know what to do. So I spoke to a friend from university who's a GP, who's got two children. And she was really, really helpful. She first of all, she told me the fact that any severe reactions, such as anaphylactic shock, which is what I was very concerned about, would happen very quickly.

One of the things that had been mentioned to me when I went to the hospital was that I could get the immunisations in a hospital setting. But it would be done at twelve and I'd be sent home about eight. And because there was an eleven hours delay before the reaction happened last time, I thought, 'Well, I can stay at the hospital for eight hours, but that's not really going to help me, if she's going to have an reaction at two o'clock in the morning'. So the fact, it was very reassuring to know that any severe reaction would happen very quickly, so at least I would be in hospital, if that happened. The other thing she said was the fact that I should go back to my GP and ask for a second opinion, because obviously I wasn't satisfied with the information that I'd got so far. And that I should actually ask to speak to someone who's a specialist, a paediatric immunologist. So I went back to my GP and he was extremely helpful. And he did give me the number of a paediatric immunologist.  

 

Talking to other mums who also had premature babies helped her with her decision.

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I had a lot of friends that I met in hospital with premature babies and we talked lots. And they're very smart women and they've been on websites and, and they've just done a lot of research. I didn't do too much research because I'm not very good at that kind of thing, but they had. And they're all I think highly intelligent women and all of them gave their babies the MMR. I only knew of one mother who did the single vaccinations. And the rest all did it and were happy with it.

 

MMR was talked about amongst her friends but often led to a heated debate so she didn't get...

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I've got quite a big network of friends, we were all at antenatal together and obviously it was discussed. But it's such a topical debate, immunisations, I think I had to kind of make the decision by myself with my husband on what we were going to do. And that's what I found, it was almost like you didn't want to start a debate, especially round the MMR, because what one person does is completely different to another, and I think it can get quite heated if you do start getting into a debate about immunisations. And so my husband and I decided that we would definitely have the MMR. And it was discussed, and a lot of my friends actually had the same view as me anyway in the end and we all had our children immunised.

 

She was influenced by the decision her boss made for her own children.

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And it's funny because you do trust the opinions of your friends. Luckily for me I worked for a lady in Germany whose son was a little older than our daughter and she thoroughly researched all of it and it was her that made me aware that the initial study which linked MMR with autism was only actually linked to four, to four, twelve children sorry. And that made me question it then because I had assumed it had been a much bigger thing than that. And also I was lazy in a way, I was frightened to look on the internet because you put in anything medical on the internet and you tend to get all sorts of shock and scare things come up and I thought that would probably do me more harm than good and confuse me more than I was already. So I was content to accept my boss's opinions because I respected her as an individual anyway, so slightly lazy perhaps but certainly easy to go along with somebody else, somebody else's decision.

Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated June 2011

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