The mad leading the blind: Perceptions of the vaccine-refusal movement among Australians who support vaccination

T. Rozbroj, A. Lyons, J. Lucke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Vaccine refusal is shaped by the social ecology in which it occurs. How people who refuse vaccines are communicated to and treated may affect the nature and strength of their negative vaccine beliefs, and their responsiveness to health promotion messages. Yet little is known about how people who refuse vaccines are perceived by the public. Our research examined perceptions among pro-vaccine Australians of the vaccine-refusal movement. Methods: Descriptions of the vaccine-refusal movement by 2666 pro-vaccine Australians were analysed using thematic discourse analysis. Descriptive themes were identified via inductive, iterative coding. Discourse analysis techniques were then used to interpret latent beliefs about the vaccine-refusal movement. Results: Participants had negative and stigmatising perceptions of the vaccine-refusal movement. They believed the movement is dangerous, misinformed, and comprised of charlatans and fools who are unintelligent, selfish, overly emotional, conspiratorial and scientifically illiterate. Discursive analysis showed that these perceptions were underpinned by beliefs that people would have to be defective in some way to believe anti-vaccine rhetoric. Furthermore, perceptions were underpinned by beliefs that the movement spreads not only disease, but also dangerous ideas that were seen to attack the social order, institutions, values and reason. Participants′ intensely-negative views related to their inability to imagine why someone would refuse vaccines. Conclusions: This research provides a focused, qualitative account of public perceptions of the vaccine-refusal movement. The findings are concerning: stigma towards vaccine-refusing people may adversely affect their wellbeing and entrench their negative vaccine beliefs. The research suggests that more compassionate, nuanced discussion of vaccine refusal in the public sphere is needed. It also supports the need to systematically examine public attitudes towards vaccine refusal as a determinant of vaccine confidence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5986-5993
Number of pages8
Issue number40
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Attitude
  • Australia
  • Public perceptions
  • Qualitative
  • Stigma
  • Vaccine hesitancy

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