Disturbingly large share of Croatian parents, about 30 percent of them, demonstrate reluctance to vaccinate their children, with the largest share being present in Dalmatia, according to data from two scientific studies and from the Croatian Institute for Public Health, reports Index.hr on March 14, 2017.
More specifically, about 10.6 percent of parents would refuse vaccination if it were optional, while about 19.5 percent of them would refuse at least some of the vaccines. There are four factors with a major influence on parents’ attitudes – relatively young age, religiosity, tendency towards alternative medicine and tendency towards conspiracy theories.
According to a study published in 2016 in the Psychology, Health & Medicine journal by Anja Repalust, Sandra Šević, Stanko Rihtar and Aleksandar Štulhofer, the risk that a parent will refuse all or at least some of the vaccines is almost twice as high among young parents. Religiosity increases the risk by about 12 percent for each degree of intensity of religious practice, while a preference for alternative methods of treatment increases the possibility of vaccine refusal by almost 300 percent.
Štulhofer says that their study did not show that other factors have a significant impact on the decisions of parents. “The classic indicators that make people differ in their behaviour and attitudes, socio-demographic indicators such as education, age, gender and income, do not differ among the three groups – those who want to vaccinate their children, those who do not, and those who would accept only certain vaccines”, says Štulhofer. “However, even some of relevant factors are not very pronounced. For example, when it comes to religiosity, with each new level of religiosity, as measured by attending religious services, the risk increases by 12 percent. A stronger risk factor is the tendency towards alternative medicine”, he said.
“When all these factors are added together, they still do not explain much of the risk for rejection of vaccination. Numerous studies show that it is likely to be explained by the influence of social networks. People who find information on the internet, mainly through forums and various groups, are the least likely to accept vaccination. Wrong information, irrationalities and conspiracy theories are heavily present there”, he explained.
Anita Lauri Korajlija took part in another large-scale study. “Our findings show that the characteristics of those who would choose not to vaccinate their children are a pronounced tendency to believe in conspiracy theories, lower trust in medical authorities, and belief that health is a consequence of their own choices and behaviour. At the same time, they are more inclined to alternative health behaviours and they have less knowledge about vaccines and their side effects”, said Lauri Korajlija.
“The results show that the decision not to vaccinate their children is made in a belief that this is a way to care for the health of their child. However, this decision is in fact part of having no confidence in medical authorities, and of ignorance and belief in conspiracy theories of pharmaceutical industry. The question is whether these individuals are able to make an informed choice or are guided only by negative attitudes about vaccination, while ignoring the fact that, if we all acted that way, we would again be surrounded with diseases that have long since been eradicated thanks to vaccination”, said Lauri Korajlija.
Bernard Kaić, head of infectious disease epidemiology department of Croatian Institute for Public Health, says that the highest share of people opposing vaccination can be found in Split-Dalmatia County and Dubrovnik-Neretva County. “According to the latest data from 2015, vaccination level in Dubrovnik-Neretva County is at about 89 percent, and in Split-Dalmatia 86 percent. The average for Croatia is about 94 percent. Since then, the levels have probably fallen a bit”, said Kaić. “The consequences for the community immunity will not be immediately seen, they will accumulate over time”, he warned.
However, the first consequences can already been seen. Due to anti-vaccination theories, measles have returned to Croatia. To make things worse, the fourth largest party in Parliament is openly calling for end of mandatory vaccinations.