In a new paper published with the World Health Organization, JP Onnela, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and his colleagues took a close look at Malegaon, India to examine patterns that emerge in social networks and communities that refuse polio vaccines. They found that households with strong social networks are more likely to be hesitant about vaccines that could prevent the disease.
“The most surprising aspect of the study was the finding regarding the extent to which vaccine-refusing households are surrounded by either vaccine-reluctant or vaccine-refusing households,” Onnela says. “In short, vaccine-refusing households had 189% more social ties to other vaccine-refusing households than vaccine-accepting households did. This is relatively large effect. We concluded in the paper that the investigated social networks contain clusters or ‘pockets’ of vaccine-refusing households.”
What does this mean for polio prevention in South Asia? Onnela believes the findings can help improve communication strategies to improve vaccine acceptance and community perceptions of immunization programs for polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases. “Taking into account people’s social network position can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of public health messaging and interventions,” he says.
The co-authors of the paper include Bruce Landon, Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Anna-Lea Kahn, World Health Organization, Danish Ahmed, National Polio Surveillance Project, WHO, India, Harish Verma, World Health Organization, A. James O’Malley, Department of Biomedical Data Science, Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Sunil Bahl, National Polio Surveillance Project, WHO, India, Roland W. Sutter, World Health Organization, and Nicholas A. Christakis, Yale Institute for Network Science.