Educating parents about the importance of vaccination may be more effective before they're even pregnant. According to a new study set to be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 26, parents make decisions regarding vaccination prior to conception.

Over 170 parents were surveyed for the study, all of whom had given birth between February and April 2015. Researchers from the North Carolina Children's Hospital found that a significant majority of parents (72 percent) reported that they began developing vaccine preferences for their child before conception. Unsurprisingly, parents of previous children thought about vaccines more, with 77 percent thinking about choices for their new baby. Lead investigator James N. Yarnall, a fourth-year medical student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that even among first-time parents, 66 percent of respondents were already focused on vaccines before pregnancy.

Family and friends, medical professionals, and organizations like the AAP and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reportedly factored into parents' decisions. The researchers also observed that parents who had previously discussed the issue with their partner and/or were more highly educated were most likely to begin thinking about vaccines before becoming pregnant.

"Currently the vast majority of vaccine information and education is given after the birth of the child, usually during the clinic visits when the vaccination shots are given," Yarnall said. "However, we may be giving this information too late, long after most parents start thinking about vaccines for their child."

A multi-site study is in the works for the research group at UNC, an endeavor designed to investigate if these finding translate to a national level.

Previous studies have shown that the most effective way to encourage vaccination is to explain to parents what happens if they decide not to vaccinate their children. And lately, that's as simple as clicking on a few news stories: Disneyland experienced a measles outbreak earlier this year, while Washington State just recently reported its first measles death in 12 years. Across the globe, thousands are getting infected and dying from this same disease, with poor vaccination among the top reasons why.

If not for the latest news, then viewing pictures of measles and reading the account of a parent whose child came down with measles may be useful. Regardless of education methods, the present study suggests it should be considered earlier than it is now.

Source: Horne Z, Powell d, Hummel J, Holyak K. Development of Vaccine Preferences in Parents of Newborns. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2015.