Understanding the evolution of expectant and new parents’ beliefs and behaviours about pediatric vaccination in British Columbia

Vaccines are the most effective way to prevent many communicable diseases, yet immunization rates in British Columbia are below the level required to mitigate outbreaks of infectious diseases. This can be partly explained by some parents’ doubts and concerns about pediatric vaccinations, termed “vaccine hesitancy”.

Numerous interventions have tried to address these concerns by focusing on communication between physicians and parents when their child is already several months old. Yet there is evidence that some parents make decisions about their child's vaccinations even before the first mention of vaccines in doctors’ offices or public health clinics; this makes the pre-natal period a potentially underutilized opportunity for initiating vaccination communication. Parents’ beliefs may also change over time in response to new information or conversations within their social networks.

As mothers are the primary decision-makers about vaccination, understanding maternal beliefs about pediatric vaccination is essential to ensure effective messaging and service delivery. It is also crucial to understand the beliefs and preferences of fathers and other co-parents, given the important role they play in shaping vaccination decisions.

Few studies to date explore how parents’ vaccination beliefs shift over time, particularly how parents’ beliefs before the baby is born continue to evolve during the first few months of their child’s life, and none to our knowledge in regions of BC where immunization rates are well below the Canadian average. Parental attitudes on southern Vancouver Island reflect specific local vaccination cultures and thus, may vary significantly from those on the mainland.

This longitudinal qualitative study explores decision-making processes about vaccinations among expectant and new parents in Victoria, BC by conducting four interviews with each mother, and two interviews with fathers or other co-parents, from the third trimester until just after the child’s first birthday. Analysis will focus on identifying points of leverage that may inform future interventions, providing data on the optimal time and method to engage parents.

Knowledge translation is integrated into the study design through collaborations with Island Health. Findings from this study will be presented for discussion in workshops with key stakeholder groups, disseminated through publications and conference presentations, as well as via a short radio piece.