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Vaccine hesitancy has been recognized as an important barrier to timely vaccinations around the world, including in sub-Saharan Africa. In Tanzania, 1 in 4 children is not fully vaccinated. The objective of this mixed methods study was to describe and contextualize parental concerns towards vaccines in Tanzania.


Between 2016 and 2017, we conducted a cross-sectional survey (n = 134) and four focus group discussions (FGDs, n = 38) with mothers of children under 2 years of age residing in Mtwara region in Southern Tanzania. The survey and FGDs assessed vaccination knowledge and concerns and barriers to timely vaccinations. Vaccination information was obtained from government-issued vaccination cards.


In the cross-sectional survey, 72% of mothers reported missed or delayed receipt of vaccines for their child. Although vaccine coverage was high, timeliness of vaccinations was lower and varied by vaccine. Rural mothers reported more vaccine-related concerns compared to urban mothers; literacy and access to information were identified as key drivers of the difference. Mothers participating in FGDs indicated high perceived risk of vaccine-preventable illnesses, but expressed concerns related to poor geographic accessibility, unreliability of services, and missed opportunities for vaccinations resulting from provider efforts to minimize vaccine wastage.


Findings from our cross-sectional survey indicate the presence of vaccination delays and maternal concerns related to childhood vaccines in Tanzania. In FGDs, mothers raised issues related to convenience more often than issues related to vaccine confidence or complacency. Further research is necessary to understand how these issues may contribute to the emergence and persistence of vaccine hesitancy and to identify effective mitigation strategies.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


© The Author(s). 2020 Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

APA Citation

Vasudevan, L., Baumgartner, J. N., Moses, S., Ngadaya, E., Mfinanga, S. G., & Ostermann, J. (2020). Parental concerns and uptake of childhood vaccines in rural Tanzania – a mixed methods study. BMC Public Health, 20(1).