The Czech Republic and its predecessor, Czechoslovakia, have a long-term tradition of immunization programmes, with a current coverage rate of 98–99%. Vaccination is mandated by law to all individuals living in the territory of the Czech Republic. In legal terms, a person who refuses to have their child vaccinated commits an administrative offence against public health. While many experts consider immunization as one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine, some members of Czech society do not regard compulsory vaccination as a clearly positive phenomenon.
This paper focuses on parents’ critical perspectives on immunization in the Czech Republic. Its goal is to present the sociodemographic characteristics of parents with critical attitudes to immunization as well as the argumentative discourses they mobilize. The text is based on a questionnaire survey of parents who are active critics of immunization practice. The questionnaire was published at the website of Rozalio, a leading NGO that mobilizes parents against the practice of compulsory vaccination in the Czech Republic. 372 respondents participated in the survey. Open-ended questions were used to invite the parents to share their attitudes on vaccination and their motivations to refuse or critique the practice.
The paper starts by presenting a sociodemographic profile of the parents who participated in the questionnaire survey. The quantitative data presented are not representative and rather provide us with general hints to better understand who the parents against vaccination are. The results indicate that critical debates on the practice of compulsory vaccination are primarily attended by better-educated women living in different parts of the Czech Republic. Subsequently, the central part of the analysis deals with the respondents’ answers to open-ended questions about their motivations to refuse/postpone vaccination.
Three distinct ways the parents framed their critical attitudes to vaccination were identified in the analysis. The most salient frame, “biomedical discourse of risk”, exploited the concepts and principles of biomedicine but deviated from the dominant interpretation of immunization as public good, instead emphasizing related individual risks. As opposed to the concept of collective immunity as one of the pillars of general immunization policies and epidemiologic discourses, the parents emphasized the need to take an individual approach and personalize the risk. The second frame, “discourse of holistic health”, was much less salient. Referring to the principles of holistic medicine, it emphasized the role of lifestyle at the expense of medical control of the body. Finally, “activist discourse” was another less frequently mentioned frame. It argued against vaccination as part of a more general critique of the ways the health care system operates and government interferes with individual freedoms.