Objectives: (1) To explore the social and cultural influences, and health beliefs associated with low uptake of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella vaccine). (2) To describe and explore the prevalence of health beliefs associated with non-compliance with MMR, with a view to improving the personal relevance and impact of information for parents, in the context of persisting low uptake following public controversy.
Methods: We undertook a survey of mothers' experiences of and attitudes to the MMR, developed through ethnographic study, which was linked to maternal and child information on the Child Health Database in Brighton, England.
Results: Mothers interpret MMR risk through concepts of child health embedded in family health history, with a majority both of compliers and non-compliers holding that each child's immune system is unique. Cultural 'risk factors' for non-compliance relate strongly to the use of complementary healthcare, such as homeopathy, with evidence that rejection of vitamin K is associated with MMR non-compliance. Forty per cent, both of compliers and non-compliers, did not consider the possible benefits to other children of MMR.
Conclusions: These findings have paradoxical and challenging consequences for the promotion of immunization in the policy context of increasing emphasis on healthy choices. They demonstrate the need for immunization information that acknowledges and addresses lay concepts of immunity.