Parents susceptible to anti-vaccine messages from public figures


A new study has found that parents who generally accept vaccination are susceptible to anti-vaccination rhetoric from politicians, suggesting that vaccine messaging needs to account for a wider array of dissenting voices.

The web-based study asked 411 participants with children under the age of five to watch short video clips of  politicians from the United States and Australia express scepticism about vaccinations, and one clip where the then head of the Australian Medical Association Michael Gannon affirmed vaccine safety.

Prior to watching the videos, 2% of respondents had fixed anti-vaccination views, more than 22% had pro-vaccination views, while the remaining 76% generally accepted vaccination.

While participants ranked doctors or other medical health professionals ahead of the media as key influencers in the development of their views surrounding vaccination, parents who did not have a fixed view of vaccination were 2.5 times more likely than the fixed-view parents to report vaccine hesitancy after hearing the views of politicians.1

In a statement, senior author Professor Raina MacIntyre, of the Kirby Institute Researchers, said that this group of people are often maligned in conversations about vaccinations.

Vaccine hesitancy research has focused on parents at one end of the spectrum, with negative vaccination views. We have shown that even vaccine-accepting parents with positive views can be influenced negatively by public figures in positions of authority,’ the report read.1

Researchers concluded that vaccine promotion was more likely to be effective when it accounted for parents who are susceptible to influence from politicians and other figures.

The research comes at a time when diseases that were previously in decline have made a resurgence. Local officials in New York’s Rockland County have declared a state of emergency after a measles outbreak that has infected more than 150 people.

Meanwhile in Australia, Helen Stone, PSA State & Territory Manager for SA and NT, urged pharmacists to take the opportunity to speak to patients about vaccines more generally.

‘Influenza is a great opportunity to get in front of people and ask them their whole story about their immunisation status. Recent outbreaks of measles in Australia have come from travellers, and I would strongly encourage pharmacists to ask people questions about their general immunisation status when they are vaccinating against influenza,’ she told Australian Pharmacist.


Zhang JE, Chughtani AA, Heywood A, MacIntyre CR. Influence of political and medical leaders on parental perception of vaccination: a cross-sectional survey in Australia. BMJ Open 2019; 9(3). At: