Why don’t some people get their life-saving vaccines?

January 2019

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019.

Despite the fact that vaccines are proven to save lives, some people still don't get the vaccines that are freely available to them, both in the UK and beyond. This puts them, their children, their family and their community at risk of infectious diseases.

To some degree, this is thought to be due to vaccines being a victim of their own success. Some countries now rarely see the deadly diseases which vaccines prevent and so people may become more frightened of a perceived harm from a vaccine than the risk of the disease itself.

But concern about safety is only one reason why people don't take up vaccines. Recent research papers and reports offer some useful insights into vaccine hesitancy.


In a special October issue of the scientific journal Vaccine, researchers from around the world presented their studies on why some people are hesitant to get vaccines, or are completely anti-vaccination.

Researchers from France and the UK first reminded people that vaccines save a staggering five lives every minute (and that is probably a very low estimate). If global vaccine uptake was improved further, they say an estimated 1.5 million deaths – the equivalent of eight jumbo jets crashing every day – could be averted each year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has named vaccine hesitancy as one of the biggest threats to global health.

But communicating the clear benefits of vaccines is not always enough to change people’s minds about vaccination. The research team highlight that some people within different cultures and sociodemographic groups need different motivations to get vaccinated. They suggest that public health officials and health professionals need to really listen to their audiences and provide tailored communications that address individual concerns. This will help more people get the vaccines they need.

Other research in this special edition pointed out that not everyone who misses their shots are ‘anti’ vaccine. They may be complacent about their health generally, require information that makes them more confident in vaccine safety, or find appointments inconvenient or difficult to attend. All of these issues need to be addressed to help increase vaccine uptake.

When it comes to reasons why some parents may not feel confident about vaccines, a European research team points to the fact that the quality of vaccine related material online is mixed, and that internet search engines often bring web users to low-quality anti-vaccine websites. They trialled a positive information hub to give parents the facts they need. The most successful content on the hub was high-quality information given by other parents, such as first person narratives about the decision to vaccinate.  Answers to questions posed by readers was also popular.

Social media

Social media can also influence parents’ decisions. However, a 2017 study found vaccine misconceptions were rife on Twitter, with affluent new mums being a prime source. The researchers suggest that targeted vaccine safety campaigns that use insights gathered from these twitter posts could help to share vaccine facts rather than vaccine myths.

Reports from the US

Addressing the reasons why some people don’t get all of their vaccines is vital to save more lives. A new report from America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that while vaccination coverage remained high overall, the percentage of children not receiving vaccines in the US is steadily increasing… a worrying trend.

Graph from the 2017 National Immunization Survey-Child (NIS-Child) to assess vaccination coverage at national, state, territorial, and selected local levels among children aged 19–35 months in the United States. 

Our view

At MRF, we will always encourage people to get the live-saving vaccines available to them. We hear from people every day who have lost children to meningitis, or who have been irreversibly injured by it. That’s why we have campaigned long and hard to introduce new vaccines. Any vaccine that is given to a child or adult is rigorously tested and monitored for safety to ensure the benefits outweigh any risks.

Thanks to the introduction of vaccines, we have seen meningitis cases drastically decrease.

If you have any concerns, questions or worries about vaccines, our helpline is available to talk. Or you can visit our vaccine pages for detailed information.

Source: Public Health England and the Health Protection Agency Archive.

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About the author

Rob Dawson
Director of Advocacy, Communications and Support

I joined in 2016 after seeing the great work the charity does to help people affected by meningitis and septicaemia. I have worked in communications for a range of sectors and bring experience from industry, charities and government.

Tel: 0333 405 6262
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