• Some parents individualize vaccination schedules differently for each child in their family based on their perceptions of that child’s unique needs and risks.
  • Some parents acknowledge that they are “free riders” whose children benefit from everyone else vaccinating their children while they do not. While other parents and some providers resent these “free riders” whom they see as expecting the benefits of participating in a society without contributing to the wellness of that society.
  • Some parents feel they can control their children’s environments, including exposure to potential pathogens and robustness of their immune responses. In this way, these parents believe that their children do not require the protection afforded by vaccines.

These are just a few of the concepts discussed in Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines, by Jennifer A Reich. The author relies on interviews with more than 30 parents whose vaccine decisions differed from the recommended schedule by either refusing some or all vaccines or by altering the schedule. While these interviews are the central focus of the book, a variety of additional sources, including interviews with providers on the front lines, attendance at conferences, expert interviews and online statements, provide additional details that build a picture of the complexities of the societal norms and perspectives around vaccines.

Following a brief history of vaccines, Reich launches into a discussion of how today’s parents “parent” and then devotes individual chapters to some of the most common themes related to vaccine concerns, including:

  • The focus on using natural products (where vaccines are viewed as unnatural)
  • The lack of trust for decision makers
  • Too many vaccines on the schedule (some of which are viewed as unnecessary)
  • Individual liberty

In the chapter “Who Calls the Shots?” Reich describes how parents view doctors and themselves — often identifying themselves as experts on their unique child and doctors as consultants. She then introduces three pediatricians whose responses to these definitions, as they relate to vaccines, differ.

Reich states early in the book that her children have been vaccinated, but she successfully shares the various views of her interviewees without adding the filter of her personal beliefs. Based on the quotes in the book by parents who have chosen not to vaccinate, it is apparent that she was also successful in conversing with these parents so that they felt comfortable sharing their ideas without judgment. To this end, Calling the Shots provides all of us with an opportunity to view the issues through a variety of lenses — so that even if we disagree with these choices or are aware of errors in logic based on our own knowledge of the subject, we gain a better understanding of why some parents reject vaccines.

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Vaccine Education Center staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family's personal health. You should not use it to replace any relationship with a physician or other qualified healthcare professional. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult your physician or, in serious cases, seek immediate assistance from emergency personnel.