Objectives: To describe how parents actually use federally mandated vaccine information pamphlets and to evaluate the pamphlets' effects on parents' opinions about vaccination.
Design: A controlled trial of vaccine information pamphlets based on a survey mailed to parents who either received (n = 140) or did not receive (n = 167) the pamphlets.
Study population: Parents of infants aged 2 to 8 months in a suburban, mainly upper-middle class private group practice in northern California.
Results: More than 90% of parents believed that they had enough information to decide whether their child should be vaccinated, even among those who did not receive the pamphlets. Among parents who received the pamphlets, fewer than half (38%) read them thoroughly, and most (63%) said that they should be distributed only on the first visit for vaccinations. Parents who received the pamphlets did not differ from those who did not in terms of the proportions who would have liked more time to be spent discussing vaccines (34% vs 34%) or who were anxious about how the diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and pertussis vaccine would affect their child (60% vs 52%).
Conclusions: Vaccine information pamphlets, when used as an adjunct to discussions with physicians and nurses, have little effect on the opinions of well-educated parents. Future research and policy changes might focus on how to make the contents of the pamphlets less frightening and on allowing greater flexibility in how they are distributed.