A generation ago there was overwhelming support for inoculating against Vaccine Preventable Diseases (VPD). In the mid-20th Century VPD’s, such as measles and polio, had annual mortality rates in the tens of thousands (Gussman, 2009; Larson, Brocard Paterson & Erondu, 2012). Yet, today differing perceptions of the risks of immunisations has led to an increased number of individuals opting out of scheduled vaccinations. This assignment will investigate the different risk perceptions that are associated with childhood immunisation through the use of risk perception literature. Secondly, risk communication literature will be examined to identify ways in which authorities can effectively engage in risk communication with the general public, specifically about VCD’s with the aim of improving immunisation rates and therefore herd immunity.
Risk perception has been extensively examined since the 1970’s and continues to be a focal point of modern literature within the field of risk management. Risk perception is defined as the “probability of an adverse outcome, or a factor that raises this probability” (Larson et al., 2012, p.1054). Within the context of immunisations, risk perception is explained in terms of an individual’s perception of the chance of harm occurring if vaccinations are not administered (Weinstein, Kwitel, McCaul, Magnan, Gerrard & Gibbons, 2007). Scholars have identified several theories, based on psychological and social determinants, to help explain why there are differences in how individuals perceive the same risk (Roeser, Hillerbrand, Sandin & Peterson, 2013). Theories related to psychological determinants, such as the Dual Process Theory (DPT) and Health Belief Model (HBM), are widely supported and consequently will be used in this essay to evaluate the differing risk perceptions of VPD’s.
Roeser et al. (2013) discuss that DPT determines how information is processed within the brain and is based on the assumption that an individual will use either their intuitive or analytical system to perceive risk. This is supported by Bean and Catania (2013), who propose that subject matter experts tend to rely heavily on their analytical systems, basing their perceptions on empirical data supporting the probability and severity of a hazard. Whereas, the public generally use the intuitive system, basing their perceptions on emotional, social or cultural risk contexts (Bean & Catania, 2013). Gerrard, Gibbons, Houlihan, Stock and Pomery (2007) reason that DPT’s risk decision-making is not limited to system one thinking (heuristics and affect) or system two thinking (deliberate rationale thinking) but a combination of them both.
In relation to vaccine risk perceptions, the work of Bean and Catania (2013) leads us to the idea that failure to receive an immunisation may not mean one is anti-immunisation. Health Care Professional’s (HCP), deemed subject matter experts in their field, instead determined that individual vaccine efficacy is...