Poll: Mixed Results on How Parents Using Social Networks Perceive Child Vaccination

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Photo courtesy of by I woz ere via Flickr

Recently a poll was conducted by Living Green with Baby to determine the perception on child vaccination of U.S. parents actively using the internet through forums and social networks. The poll served as a way to supplement an article on the benefits and risks of vaccinating children.

It was found that although most participants believe that vaccines generally are more beneficial to children than harmful, about half of the respondents think that either vaccines cause more harm to children or they are not sure of the effect of vaccines. The poll results imply that some parents who actively use social networks are susceptible to what others are posting.

The poll requested that participants answered the following question: Do you think that generally vaccines cause more good to children than harm?

  • More good
  • More harm
  • Not sure

No other data was gathered from participants. The question was designed to measure the general perception about vaccinating children of the population of interest. Therefore the respondent answers in terms of all vaccines and not just one specifically. Furthermore, the question does not distinguish between impact on children individually and social impact of vaccines. Requests to be part of the poll were placed in some established parent forums in the U.S., facebook pages of entities focused on advice on parenthood, and through twitter. Completely pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine websites were not chosen to avoid biasing the results based on specific traffic to those websites. Overall 88 people participated of the survey in a period of two days. One persons response consisted of two answers and had to be omitted.

The results are presented in the figure below. Most participants think that vaccines cause more good than harm (about 50%). But slightly less than half either think vaccines cause more harm (about 30%) or are not sure (about 20%). The poll results suggest that about 1 in 5 parents who actively use the internet are not sure if vaccines cause more good than harm to children. A recent study found that social networks play an important role in the decision making of parents when it comes to vaccines and help shape their beliefs about vaccines. Therefore about 1 in 5 parents in this subgroup, are susceptible to the opinions expressed in social networks. It is important to emphasize that parents are not the only people providing their opinion about vaccines through social networks. Other users, especially young adults with no children have also been known to relay vaccine information online. Personal observations of what is found in social networks indicate that for the most part, posts about vaccines found in social networks have negative inclinations and hence most of the parents in this subgroup may decide that vaccines cause more harm than good unless effective presentations of how the benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks are presented.

child vaccination, kids health

Survey conducted in July 2013

We acknowledge that online polls tend to be biased since many who respond are those that are most willing to give their opinion on a topic. Furthermore, due to time constraints and other factors, the results should not be considered to be scientifically valid. However, in the matter of interest, the respondent with strong opinions on the topic was exactly the type of subgroup needed to infer on the type of opinion that people may give online or how susceptible they would be to other people’s opinion. We believe the poll estimates best the proportion of parents that are not sure about vaccines. ‘More good’ and ‘More harm’ rates are likely less reliable because of how the poll was conducted. It is important to remember that the poll is useful to infer on the perception of parents in the U.S. who actively use social networks, and not on the perceptions of U.S. parents overall. The former is a subgroup of the latter. And in the latter a higher percentage of parents likely think that vaccines cause more good to children than harm.

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Author:Robert Rivera PhD

Proud dad and statistics university professor. His specialty is the use and construction of statistical methods. Also strategy analyst for Living Green with Baby

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