Hurdles to herd immunity: Distrust of government and vaccine refusal in the US, 2002–2003

Charlotte Lee, Kathryn Whetten, Saad Omer, William Pan, Daniel Salmon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


High rates of nonmedical exemptions (NMEs) from required childhood vaccinations have contributed to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles and pertussis. Understanding the parental decision to obtain an NME could help health professionals and public health programs improve vaccination rates in areas with high vaccine refusal. Using a 2002–2003 multi-state survey of parents of school age children (​n = 2445), this study found that parental distrust of the government and of healthcare providers is a significant factor related to a number of vaccine-related beliefs and behaviors. The odds that parents who distrust the government have seen a complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) provider were 2.11 times greater than those of parents who trust the government (70.1% vs 52.6%; OR, 2.11; 95% CI, 1.59–2.84; P < 0.01). Parents who distrust the government had increased odds of trusting vaccine information from CAM providers compared to trusting parents (57.9% vs 46.3%; OR, 1.53; 95% CI, 1.16–2.01; P < 0.01). Parents who distrust the government also had increased odds of distrusting vaccine information acquired at their healthcare providers’ offices (12.6% vs 4.7%; OR, 2.64; 95% CI, 1.64–4.24; P < 0.01). Distrustful parents had increased odds of thinking government sources of information about vaccines were unreliable, categorizing the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or local and state health departments as poor or very poor sources (distrust government vs trust government: 25.2% vs 11.7%; OR, 2.39; 95% CI, 1.70–3.36; P < 0.01; distrust healthcare providers vs trust healthcare providers: 24.4% vs 11.4%; OR, 2.44; 95% CI, 1.75–3.38; P < 0.01). These findings indicate that distrustful parent populations may need to be reached through modalities outside of traditional government and healthcare provider communications. Research into new and more effective techniques for delivering pro-vaccine messages is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3972-3978
Number of pages7
Issue number34
StatePublished - Jul 25 2016


  • Anti-vaccine
  • Distrust
  • Government
  • Healthcare provider
  • Immunization
  • Vaccine refusal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Veterinary
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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