Vaccination against contagious diseases is intended to benefit individuals and contribute to the eradication of such diseases from the population as a whole. The Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine is widely recommended for all children with the aim of protecting against measles, mumps, and rubella. However, within the UK, there has been significant controversy surrounding its safety. This paper presents findings from a UK study of discussions about MMR in an online chat forum for parents. We observed archived discussions (without posting any messages) and conducted a thematic analysis to explore in more detail how participants discussed particular topics. Most participants were female, had young children, lived in the UK. They had reached a range of decisions regarding MMR vaccination. This analysis focuses on discussions about ‘avoiding harm to others,’ which were important considerations for many of the participating parents. In the context of concerns about MMR safety, participants expressed a desire to both (a) protect their own child and (b) help protect others by contributing to herd immunity. Parents made a distinction between healthy and vulnerable children which had important implications for their views about who should bear the burden of vaccination. Some parents were quite critical of those who did not vaccinate healthy children, and urged them to do so on grounds of social responsibility. Our findings suggest that social scientists with an interest in vaccination practice should attend carefully to lay understandings of herd immunity as a public good and views about obligations to others in society. Policy makers, too, might consider giving more emphasis to herd immunity in vaccination promotional material, although attention should be paid to the ways in which parents distinguish between healthy and vulnerable children.Peer reviewedAuthor versio
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