Cognitive processes and the decisions of some parents to forego pertussis vaccination for their children

J Clin Epidemiol. 1996 Jun;49(6):697-703. doi: 10.1016/0895-4356(96)00007-8.


Public health analyses suggest that, in spite of the possibility that pertussis vaccine may cause rare cases of neurological injury, catastrophic risks to individual children are lower if they are vaccinated. A number of parents, however, choose not to vaccinate their children. The purpose of this study was to investigate the decision processes of some parents who choose to vaccinate and some parents who choose not to do so. Surveys were mailed to 500 randomly selected subscribers of Mothering magazine. Two hundred and ninety-four completed questionnaires were returned (59%). In addition to well-recognized factors in vaccination decisions, perceived dangers of the vaccine, and of the disease and susceptibility to the disease, several cognitive processes not previously considered in vaccination decision studies were found to be important predictors in this population of parents: perceived ability to control children's susceptibility to the disease and the outcome of the disease; ambiguity or doubts about the reliability of vaccine information; a preference for errors of omission over errors of commission; and recognition that if many other children are vaccinated, the risk to unvaccinated children may be lowered. Although perhaps most cases of undervaccination for pertussis reflect more general problems of health care access, some parents choose to forego vaccination for their children for other reasons. Traditional risk-benefit arguments alone will be unlikely to persuade these parents to reassess their decisions. Efforts to increase childhood vaccination must incorporate an understanding of the cognitive processes that help drive these decisions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Decision Making*
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis Vaccine / administration & dosage
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis Vaccine / adverse effects*
  • Disease Susceptibility / psychology
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Patient Compliance / psychology*
  • Pertussis Vaccine / administration & dosage
  • Pertussis Vaccine / adverse effects*
  • Risk
  • Risk Assessment
  • Vaccination / psychology*
  • Whooping Cough / prevention & control*
  • Whooping Cough / psychology


  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis Vaccine
  • Pertussis Vaccine