What are the vaccine beliefs of those who distrust the healthcare system?

by Rebecca Israel, MS. Reviewed by Charles Li, MD

July 22, 2020

  • Parents who distrust the healthcare system do not believe that doctors are a reliable source of information about vaccines.

  • Parents who distrust the healthcare system are less likely to fully vaccinate their children.

  • Parents who distrust the healthcare system are more likely to seek care from providers who practice alternative medicine.

vaccines and healthcare distrust title

There are many sources of health information available: the internet, word of mouth, community centers, government agencies. The most apparent source of information are doctors and medical centers. Historically, doctors and other healthcare workers have maintained a trusted and powerful position in our society. But what about those who do not view the healthcare system as trustworthy?

Disagreeing about vaccines

Americans like to make their own healthcare decisions. However, vaccinations are a healthcare decision that effects more than just the recipient. It is important for any eligible person to be vaccinated to reduce the risk of disease exposure among those who are medically unable to be vaccinated. This concept is called herd immunity.

When a population disagrees about vaccinations, the whole group is at risk. Herd immunity is vital in reducing the spread of disease and protecting those who can not protect themselves. Researchers examine the barriers to herd immunity by assessing parental trust in the healthcare system.

How does trust in the healthcare system influence parental likelihood of vaccinating themselves and their children?

Researchers received the completed surveys of 1253 parents from 112 private and public elementary schools in Colorado, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Washington from 2002 to 2003. Children were either vaccinated or stated a non-medical exemption from vaccination. A non-medical exemption means that the parents got permission to send their non-vaccinated child to school from a source other than their doctor.

The survey measured trust in hospital and public health messaging. It also recorded their beliefs about complementary or alternative medicines (CAM). CAM are therapies that are not medically sound or supported by evidence.

Parents who distrust in the government are more likely to seek alternative medicine and not fully vaccinate their children.

Those who distrust the healthcare system were significantly more likely to believe and behave against the advice of doctors or other healthcare providers. Some not only believe that their vaccine information is unreliable, but that it goes against the best interest of their child. They are more likely to seek information about vaccinations from CAM providers than those who trust the healthcare system.

Beliefs of those who distrust in the healthcare system

Trust as a barrier to safety

This study supports the theory that doctor distrust is a barrier to herd immunity. Those who distrust the healthcare system are more likely to believe and behave with disregard of their doctors vaccine recommendations. Addressing these beliefs is necessary to ensure herd immunity and protect those who are medically ineligible for vaccinations.

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