Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines


Winner of the 2018 Donald W. Light Award for Applied Medical Sociology, American Sociological Association

Winner of the Distinguished Scholarship Award, 2018 Pacific Sociological Association

Winner of the Outstanding Book Award, 2017 American Sociological Association Section on Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity

Honorable Mention, 2017 Mirra Komarovksy Book Award, Eastern Sociological Society

The measles outbreak at Disneyland in December 2014 spread to a half-dozen U.S. states and sickened 147 people.  It is just one recent incident that the medical community blames on the nation’s falling vaccination rates.  Still, many parents continue to claim that the risks that vaccines pose to their children are far greater than their benefits.  Given the research and the unanimity of opinion within the medical community, many ask how such parents—who are most likely to be white, college educated, and with a family income over $75,000—could hold such beliefs.

For over a decade, Jennifer Reich has been studying the phenomenon of  vaccine refusal from the perspectives of parents who distrust vaccines and the corporations that make them, as well as the health care providers and policy makers who see them as essential to ensuring community health.  Reich reveals how parents who opt out of vaccinations see their decision:  what they fear, what they hope to control, and what they believe is in their child’s best interest.  Based on interviews with parents who fully reject vaccines as well as those who believe in “slow vax,” or altering the number of and time between vaccinations, the author provides a fascinating account of these parents’ points of view.

Placing these stories in dialogue with those of pediatricians who see the devastation that can be caused by vaccine-preventable diseases and the policy makers who aim to create healthy communities, Calling the Shots offers a unique opportunity to understand the points of disagreement on what is best for children, communities, and public health, and the ways in which we can bridge these differences.


  • Calling the Shots is intellectually rigorous and politically engaged scholarship of the highest quality. Jennifer Reich illuminates the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors surrounding childhood immunization, one of the most important and contested public health policy issues of our day. Debates about vaccine refusal have too often been marked by over-simplification and unfounded assumptions, and Reich’s thorough, meticulous analysis provides a much-needed corrective.”

    —James Colgrove, author of State of Immunity: The Politics of Vaccination in Twentieth-Century America

    “In this gripping book, Reich illumines the processes through which (mostly affluent) parents reject vaccines. The book impressively situates these anti-vaccine parents in a broader context. Reich carefully documents how a range of organizations – including medical offices, drug companies, and child protective services–are all players in this social drama. Reich’s concept of ‘individualistic parenting’ is valuable. Since parents’ decisions can have dire consequences for other children, the book is not only interesting, but it is of enormous social significance.Highly recommended!”

    —Annette Lareau, author of Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life

  • Calling the Shots treads confidently into the explosive terrain of vaccine refusal. In this must-read exploration of the burdens of modern mothering, Reich takes seriously the desires of mothers to make their own decisions to protect their children from risks. But she also shows how anti-vaccine stances by the privileged few may undermine the social compact and threaten the public good. This is a well-written, important, and very timely book.”

    —Steven Epstein, author of Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research