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Recent reports of childhood vaccination coverage in Australia have shown steadily improving vaccination coverage and narrowing differences between highest and lowest coverage regions, yet the NSW North Coast consistently has the lowest coverage rates nationally. Better understanding of parents’ vaccination attitudes and actions within this region may guide strategies to improve uptake. The antenatal period is when many parents explore and consolidate vaccination attitudes and so is pivotal for study.
Women attending public antenatal clinics at six NSW North Coast hospitals completed a 10-min cross-sectional survey capturing stage of decision-making and decisional-conflict as well as vaccination hesitancy, attitudes, intentions and actions. Unscored responses were analysed for individual items. Decisional conflict subscales were scored using published algorithms. For consented children, immunisation status was assessed at 8 months using the Australian Immunisation Register.
For Likert scale items, odds ratios and Fisher’s exact, chi-squared and Chasson’s tests assessed differences between subgroups. Wilcoxon rank-sum tests assessed differences between subgroups for items on scales of 0-to-10 and decisional conflict sub-scale scores.
First-time mothers were 3 times more likely than others (OR = 3.40, 95% CI 1.34–8.60) to identify as unsure, somewhat or very hesitant.
Most respondents (92.2%) wanted their new baby to receive all recommended vaccinations. Many had high or moderate levels of concern about vaccine side effects (25.4%), safety (23.6%) and effectiveness (23.1%).
Increased hesitancy was associated with decreased confidence in the schedule (p < 0.001), decreased trust in child’s doctor (p < 0.0001), decreased perceived protection from disease (p < 0.05) and increased decisional conflict on all measured subscales (p < 0.0001). First-time mothers had higher decisional conflict on values clarity, support and uncertainty sub-scales.
By 8 months of age, 83.2% of infants were fully vaccinated. Those with none or a few minor concerns were over 8 times more likely than others to vaccinate on schedule (OR = 8.7, 1.3–56.7).
Importantly this study provides further strong justification to talk with women about vaccination during pregnancy and particularly to ensure that first-time mothers are offered assistance in making these important decisions, where indicated. Further research should focus on optimising the timing, content and delivery style of perinatal interventions.