Dads can help boost child immunisation rates

Press release

Aiming immunisation campaigns specifically at fathers-to-be could be a promising new approach to get more New Zealand children immunised on time suggests new research by the Growing Up in New Zealand study.

The paper published in Vaccine showed that a child whose father made the decision during pregnancy that his child would be fully immunised was three times more likely to be immunised on time than the child of a future dad who had decided on partial or no immunisation, independent of the mother’s intentions.

If both parents agreed on full immunisations their infant was between two and three times more likely to be immunised on time compared to the child of parents who disagreed. Yet only 77 percent of mothers and partners in the study agreed on their intentions for immunising their child, with only 65 percent deciding to fully immunise their child.

To find out about parents’ intentions regarding immunisation, the Growing Up in New Zealand study interviewed 6822 women and 4404 of their partners during the last trimester of pregnancy, and asked questions about parents’ plans to immunise their child.

Infants were considered to have been immunised on time if each of the recommended six-week, three-month and five-month vaccines were given within 30 days of their due date.

“Our research showed that both parents are involved in the decision-making process and that fathers play an important role in ensuring that children get their childhood immunisations on time,” says Growing Up in New Zealand Associate Director and Starship paediatrician, Associate Professor Cameron Grant from the University of Auckland.

“As another whooping cough epidemic is expected in New Zealand later this year or in 2017 it is particularly important that we look for ways to improve immunisation timeliness right now.”

The study found that more than 1 in 5 future fathers remain undecided during pregnancy whether to immunise their child or not, compared to 1 in 8 future mothers.

“The reason why almost twice as many fathers than mothers are undecided about immunisation could be that they are not having as many opportunities to engage with health professionals during pregnancy. They could be missing out on personal advice and recommendations from doctors and midwives, and on information material distributed through maternity health clinics.”

“With the first immunisations scheduled at 6 weeks of age, the most opportune time for New Zealand parents to make an informed decision on immunising their child is before the child is born. So it is concerning to see that such a large proportion of future dads remain undecided late in the pregnancy.”

But Dr Grant identifies this existing gap as an opportunity for policy makers.

“Given the importance of fathers’ input into immunisation decision making as demonstrated in this paper, aiming immunisation campaigns specifically at fathers-to-be could be an effective measure to increase immunisation timeliness for New Zealand toddlers.”

“Measures could include personal advice from healthcare providers and pamphlets specifically aimed at fathers. Sporting, cultural and other role models could help dads identify with the important contribution they make to protecting their child against whooping cough and other deadly vaccine-preventable diseases. Interactive decision-making software and apps that remind new parents of upcoming immunisations for their child are also an option to consider.”

The results in brief 

  • Of pregnant women, 81% intended to fully immunise their child, 4% intended partial immunisation, 2% no immunisation, and 13% were undecided.
  • Of partners of pregnant women (most commonly the father of the child), 71% intended to fully immunise their child, 5% intended partial immunisation, 2% no immunisation and 22% were undecided.
  • Of the couples who provided information, 77% of mothers and partners agreed on their intentions for vaccinating their child, with 65% agreeing on full immunisations.
  • A child whose father had decided during pregnancy to fully immunise the child was three times more likely to be immunised on time than the child of a future dad who had decided on partial or no immunisation, independent of the mother’s intentions.
  • In comparison with all other parents, the infants of parent who agreed on full immunisation were between 2 and 3 times more likely to be immunised on time.

Learn more

Growing Up in New Zealand  University of Auckland, NZ
Antenatal immunization intentions of expectant parents: relationship to immunization timeliness Vaccine 2016. Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact Elsevier's Newsroom at newsroom@elsevier.com or +31 20 485 3564