Beyond the “Hullabaloo” of the Vaccine “Debate”: Understanding Parents’ Assessment of Risks When Making Vaccine Decisions

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Lauren R. Kolodziejski


To ascertain the risk assessments parents use when making vaccine decisions, I conducted semi-structured interviews with mothers of young children. Treating these interviews as texts, I rhetorically analyzed how parents talk about their chil­dren’s vaccination in order to better understand reasons for vaccine hesitancy. My analysis reveals that despite the difference in behavior between parents who vac­cinate and parents who hesitate, there is a commonality in discourse. Three topoi emerged within these mothers’ explanation of their vaccination decisions: percep­tions of diseases, perceptions of environmental threats, and assessment of their child’s vulnerability. Considering the common ground these topoi reflect, I explore possible alternative messaging about vaccines that might better encourage vaccine uptake. Ultimately, I argue a rhetorical approach to studying public and personal discourses about health issues can prove useful for identifying key topoi, which can generate communication strategies for addressing public concerns while potentially improving support for public health initiatives

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