U.K. parents' decision-making about measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine 10 years after the MMR-autism controversy: a qualitative analysis

Vaccine. 2012 Feb 27;30(10):1855-64. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2011.12.127. Epub 2012 Jan 9.


Background and objectives: Public concern about an unsubstantiated link between MMR vaccine and autism stemmed from a 1998 paper by Dr Andrew Wakefield and colleagues, and the substantial media coverage which that work attracted. Though the Wakefield paper is now discredited and an MMR-autism link has never been demonstrated empirically, this concern has manifested in over a decade of suboptimal MMR uptake. Few qualitative studies have explored parents' MMR decision-making since uptake began to improve in 2004. This study updates and adds methodological rigour to the evidence base.

Methods: 24 mothers planning to accept, postpone or decline the first MMR dose (MMR1) for their 11-36 month-old children, described their decision-making in semi-structured interviews. Mothers were recruited via General Practice, parents' groups/online forums, and chain referral. MMR1 status was obtained from General Practice records 6 months post-interview. Interview transcripts were coded and interpreted using a modified Grounded Theory approach.

Results: Five themes were identified: MMR vaccine and controversy; Social and personal consequences of MMR decision; Health professionals and policy; Severity and prevalence of measles, mumps and rubella infections; Information about MMR and alternatives. Results indicated that MMR1 acceptors were sympathetic toward Wakefield as a person, but universally rejected his study which sparked the controversy; parents opting for single vaccines expressed the sense that immune overload is not a consideration but that not all three components of MMR are warranted by disease severity; and MMR1 rejectors openly criticised other parents' MMR decisions and decision-making.

Conclusions: This study corroborated some previous qualitative work but indicated that the shrinking group of parents now rejecting MMR comprises mainly those with more extreme and complex anti-immunisation views, whilst parents opting for single vaccines may use second-hand information about the controversy. In response, policymakers and practitioners should revise their expectations of today's MMR decision-makers, and their methods for supporting them.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology
  • Decision Making*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine / administration & dosage*
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • United Kingdom
  • Vaccination / psychology*


  • Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine