Public Release: 

Have parents behaved irrationally towards MMR?

Communication and miscommunication of risk: understanding UK parents' attitudes to combined MMR vaccination BMJ Volume 327, pp 725-8


Parents seem to neglect a real risk to their children (injuries from road crashes) but amplify an insignificant risk (autism caused by MMR vaccine), argues a senior researcher in this week's BMJ. But does this suggest that parents are irrational?

Paul Bellaby of Salford University considers the public perception of three risks to children: an insignificant risk (autism from vaccination), a real but probably small risk (vCJD from BSE), and a real and demonstrably larger risk (injuries from road crashes).

Although injuries from road crashes carry by far the largest risk of the three, they have raised little controversy, says the author. In contrast, the alleged link between MMR vaccination and autism, and the small risk of vCJD both met with widespread concern from parents.

He suggests that parents seem to neglect the easily perceptible risk, to reject the expert assessment, and to amplify the virtual risk.

However, in spite of appearances to the contrary, one can argue that parents have behaved rationally, says the author. They act in what they perceive to be the interests of their children. Thus they avoid beef products and question the safety of MMR. Even though taking children to school and elsewhere by car is a risk, it is seen as a way of protecting them from greater dangers on the streets, such as abduction by strangers.

Communicating risk effectively is about much more than providing even the best of information: it is a matter of two-way communication and obtaining agreement, he concludes.


Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.