As the outbreak of measles in Southern California continues its spread, public health officials have turned their attention toward the rising number of parents forgoing vaccinations for their children. Once based on the now discredited study linking vaccines to autism, the choice not to vaccinate is now considered an issue of individual choice, albeit one made at the expense of public health.

Vaccinating has become highly politicized. With conflicting information about potential side effects and the increase in mandated vaccines, some parents have grown anxious and distrustful—they are now known as “anti-vaxxers.”
Social networks and institutions help distrust spread. For instance, you can’t “catch” autism from other people, but as parents near each other share information and experiences, the chances that a child will be diagnosed with autism increases.
When parents who distrust medical advice about vaccines consider other parenting practices, such as breastfeeding and nutrition, they also seek out institutions like private schools, which are more friendly to alternative choices. The parents’ networks are thus made smaller.
Although anti-vaxxers are not necessarily motivated by religious values, sociologists study how multiple sources of authority, such as religious and political affiliations, impact scientific distrust and result in deeply held personal beliefs that may place facts and values at odds.