Understanding the perceived logic of care by vaccine-hesitant and vaccine-refusing parents: A qualitative study in Australia

Paul R. Ward, Katie Attwell, Samantha B. Meyer, Philippa Rokkas, Julie Leask

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


In terms of public health, childhood vaccination programs have benefits that far outweigh risks. However, some parents decide not to vaccinate their children. This paper explores the ways in which such parents talked about the perceived risks and benefits incurred by vaccinating (or not vaccinating) their children. Between 2013–2016 we undertook 29 in-depth interviews with non-vaccinating and/or ‘vaccine hesitant’ parents in Australia. Interviews were conducted in an open and non-judgmental manner, akin to empathic neutrality. Interviews focused on parents talking about the factors that shaped their decisions not to (or partially) vaccinate their children. All interviews were transcribed and analysed using both inductive and deductive processes. The main themes focus on parental perceptions of: 1. their capacity to reason; 2. their rejection of Western medical epistemology; and 3. their participation in labour intensive parenting practices (which we term salutogenic parenting). Parents engaged in an ongoing search for information about how best to parent their children (capacity to reason), which for many led to questioning/distrust of traditional scientific knowledge (rejection of Western medical epistemology). Salutogenic parenting spontaneously arose in interviews, whereby parents practised health promoting activities which they saw as boosting the natural immunity of their children and protecting them from illness (reducing or negating the perceived need for vaccinations). Salutogenic parenting practices included breastfeeding, eating organic and/or home-grown food, cooking from scratch to reduce preservative consumption and reducing exposure to toxins. We interpret our data as a ‘logic of care’, which is seen by parents as internally consistent, logically inter-related and inter-dependent. Whilst not necessarily sharing the parents’ reasoning, we argue that an understanding of their attitudes towards health and well-being is imperative for any efforts to engage with their vaccine refusal at a policy level.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0185955
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Medical risk factors
  • child health
  • vaccines
  • vacination
  • immunization
  • immunisation


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