Open Access Open Badges Research article

Understanding the main barriers to immunization in Colombia to better tailor communication strategies

Diego Alejandro García L1, Martha Velandia-González2*, Silas Pierson Trumbo2, M Cristina Pedreira2, Pamela Bravo-Alcántara2 and M Carolina Danovaro-Holliday2

Author Affiliations

1 Expanded Program on Immunization, Carrera 13 No. 32-76, Bogotá, Colombia

2 Comprehensive Family Immunization Unit, Pan American Health Organization, 525 23rd St., NW Washington, DC 20037, USA

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:669  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-669

Published: 30 June 2014



The Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in Colombia has made great advances since its inception in 1979; however, by 2010 vaccination coverage rates had been declining. In 2010, the EPI commissioned a nationwide study on practices on immunization, attitudes and knowledge, perceived service quality, and barriers to childhood immunization in order to tailor EPI communication strategies.


Colombia’s 32 geographical departments were divided into 10 regions. Interviewers from an independent polling company administered a survey to 4802 parents and guardians of children aged <5 years in these regions. To better assess barriers to vaccination, the study was designed to have 70% of participants who had children with incomplete vaccination schedules. Explanatory factorial, principal component, and cluster analyses were performed to place participants into a group (segment) representing the primary category of reasons respondents offered for not vaccinating their children. Types of barriers were then compared to other variables, such as service quality, communication preferences, and parental attitudes on vaccination.


Although all respondents indicated that vaccines have health benefits, and 4738 (98.7%) possessed vaccination cards for their children, attitudes and knowledge were not always favorable to immunization. Six groups of immunization barriers were identified: 1) factors related to caregivers (24.4%), 2) vaccinators (19.7%), 3) health centers (18.0%), 4) the health system (13.4%), 5) concerns about adverse events (13.1%), and 6) cultural and religious beliefs (11.4%); groups 1, 5 and 6 together represented almost half (48.9%) of users, indicating problems related to the demand for vaccines as the primary barriers to immunization. Differences in demographics, communication preferences, and reported service quality were found among participants in the six groups and among participants in the 10 regions. Additionally, differences between how participants reported receiving information on vaccination and how they believed such information should be communicated were observed.


Better understanding immunization barriers and the users of the EPI can help tailor communication strategies to increase demand for immunization services. Results of the study have been used by Colombia’s EPI to inform the design of new communication strategies.

Immunization programs; Colombia; Immunization services; Barriers to immunization; Communication strategies