“Policy Makes Politics: Policy feedback and social identity in California’s vaccination policy changes 2012-2019,” Katie Attwell, University of Western Australia

Event time: 
Tuesday, April 25, 2023 - 12:00pm to 1:15pm
Institution for Social and Policy Studies (PROS77 ), A002 See map
77 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 


In 2015, California removed a long-standing personal belief exemption to the state’s childhood vaccine mandates for school enrolment. In the context of global shifts towards more coercive policies to address the perceived problem of parental refusal of childhood vaccinations, the change was hardly novel (Attwell & Hannah, 2022; Attwell et al., 2018). However, the California case is striking because the change was fairly abrupt; California’s non-medical exemptions had been in place since 1960. Existing scholarly accounts of the California case have emphasised exogenous shocks – specifically the well-publicized outbreak at Disneyland in 2015 – and the rise in parental vaccine hesitancy, also crediting the high calibre pro-vaccine activists organising around demands for reform (Mello et al., 2015; Vanderslott, 2019). However, less attention has been paid to how vaccine policies themselves shaped the emergence of demands for change and the highly polarised conflicts over legislative efforts between 2012 and 2019. Scholars working on policy feedback emphasise the degree to which “policies create politics” by creating incentives and opportunities for groups and constituencies to mobilise and make demands of elected officials, by shaping ideas and norms around citizen behaviour, or by embedding certain relationships between citizens and the state. This paper utilises theories of policy ‘feedback’ to explain the relationship between the design of vaccine policies and subsequent political conflict leading to the transformation of those policies.

Associate Professor Katie Attwell is a political science and public policy scholar at the University of Western Australia, where she leads VaxPolLab. She is an Honorary Fellow of the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at Telethon Kids Institute, Perth and is the current Chair of the Collaboration on Social Science and Immunisation (COSSI), a national network of vaccination social science researchers. Katie is a global expert in vaccine hesitancy and vaccination policies for childhood and COVID-19 vaccines. She has engaged in community, policy, and behavioural research in vaccination uptake since 2014, the year of her ground-breaking and internationally recognised “I Immunise” campaign, which drew on behavioural insights to address alternative lifestyle-based vaccine hesitancy in Fremantle, Western Australia. Her recent Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA 2019-2022), a three-year research fellowship funded by the Australian Research Council of the Australian Government, explored mandatory childhood vaccination policies in Australia, Italy, France and California. Katie has recently led the interdisciplinary West Australian project “Coronavax: Preparing Community and Government”, which engaged in community and government research for the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, funded by Wesfarmers and the Health Department of Western Australia. From 2023, Katie will be leading MandEval, a mixed methods and multi-country study of the implementation and impact of COVID-19 vaccine mandates.


Co-sponsored with the Center for the Study of American Politics at ISPS, the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale Law School, and the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University