The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) controversy provides an interesting case where, for a short period of time, research publicized in the media, suggested a potential risk of serious side-effects associated with the vaccine, where there was also a sharp behavioral response from the public, and where the initial information was subsequently overturned. We consider the controversy from the perspective of health inequalities and the assimilation of information, focusing on whether and how vaccine uptake behavior in the wake of the controversy differed among groups of parents by education and income. Using panel data on the variation in the uptake of the MMR, and other childhood immunizations, across local Health Authority areas we find that the uptake rate of the MMR declined faster in areas where a larger fraction of parents had stayed in education past the age of 18 than in areas with less educated parents. We also find that the same areas reduced their relative uptake of other uncontroversial childhood immunizations, suggesting a "spillover" effect. Using a supplementary data source we find evidence of a corresponding positive income effect, indicating that wealthier parents avoided the MMR dilemma by purchasing single vaccines.
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