October 3, 2011
Many Parents Do Not Follow Vaccination Schedule
More than one in ten parents use an “alternative” vaccination schedule for their young children, with many either delaying or skipping vaccinations altogether, putting their kids at serious risk, a new study has found.
US government health officials say that, by age 6, children should have vaccinations against 14 diseases, in as many as two dozen separate doses.
But researchers worry that more and more parents may be refusing to vaccinate their children, which raises the risk that diseases like measles and whooping cough will run rampant through schools and communities.
One in 5 parents believe that delaying shots is safer than the recommended schedule. The results of the study suggest that more than 2 million infants and young children may not be fully protected against preventable diseases, including some that can be deadly or disabling.
In the national survey of 750 parents of children age 6 or younger, conducted last year and released online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that many parents have doubts about the safety of vaccinations, even among those who fully vaccinate their children. Twenty-eight percent of the parents in the study believe that an alternative vaccination schedule -- which spaces out shots over time -- is safer than receiving several shots at once.
The results are very disconcerting. Health officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that unvaccinated people have fueled an outbreak of measles, which have sickened nearly 200 people in the first eight months of this year. Mumps and whooping cough have also broken out in the US over the past two years.
Much of the skepticism and confusion about vaccine safety could stem from a 1998 study in The Lancet, which linked vaccines to autism. That evidence has since been refuted and revealed as fraudulent, said Ari Brown, a doctor and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“I was stunned at the high number of parents who choose a selective vaccination schedule,” she said. “That number is much higher than the number of parents who do this in my office.”
The study found that parents were most likely to skip vaccinations against swine flu and seasonal flu. Parents were least likely to skip the polio vaccine. Researchers noted that white parents were more likely to follow an alternative vaccine schedule, as were families who didn´t have a regular physician.
Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician at Children´s Hospital Boston, said doctors need to take time to address parents´ questions. “Some of the people who refuse vaccines are anti-vaccine people whose minds are made up. But many are just worried parents who want to do the right thing, who have heard misinformation and don't know whom to trust. Taking the time to talk to talk with them and give them good information could make all the difference,” she told Liz Szabo of USA TODAY.
Children whose parents opt out of one or more vaccines are 22 times more likely to contract measles and nearly six times more likely to contract whooping cough, according to background research cited in the study.
Unvaccinated babies are even more vulnerable, because they are at greater risk of complications from many infections, Douglas Diekema, a doctor and bioethicist at Seattle Children's Research Institute, told Szabo.
Dr. Amanda Dempsey, a pediatrician and researcher at the University of Michigan, and lead author of the study, said skepticism about vaccination is fueled by flawed information found online and media reports that dramatically play up misconceptions. And some parents dismiss the severity of preventable diseases because they have never seen a child seriously ill with such illnesses.
“The vaccines that we recommend have been so effective in largely eliminating the vaccine-preventable diseases that most parents don't have first, second or even third hand experience with these diseases,” Dempsey told Reuters Health.
Whether or not to get their kids vaccinated “is more of a theoretical concern or concept for them,” she said. But, she added, “These are really real risks that are out there. None of these diseases are completely eradicated.”
“From being someone in the trenches seeing children die every year from influenza and its complications ... I would not do a single thing to risk the health of my kids,” Dr. Buddy Creech, associate director of Vanderbilt University's Vaccine Research Program, who also has two fully-vaccinated school-age children and an infant, told the Associated Press (AP).
Because no vaccine protects 100 percent of children who get it, epidemiologists rely on “herd immunity” to make sure enough kids are well enough protected to keep a disease from spreading. But that immunity gets thrown off when there are more youngsters who haven't had their recommended vaccines.
Dr. Larry Pickering, an infectious disease specialist at the CDC, told AP that the new survey is important and well done, and indicates that doctors need to do a better job of communicating vaccine information to patients.
Pickering supports the idea of parents being actively involved in medical care for their children, but cautioned: “If they're going to do that, they need to be fully informed about the risks and benefits of vaccines and need to obtain the information from a valid source.”
The CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians are among groups that provide online vaccine information based on medical research.
The CDC´s vaccination schedule for kids six and younger includes shots for the protection against measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, chicken pox, hepatitis and seasonal flu (including swine flu). The full recommended schedule can be found here.
Dempsey has been a paid advisor to Merck on issues regarding a vaccine for older children but said that company made no contributions to the survey research. Knowledge Networks conducted the survey, which had an error margin of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
On the Net:
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- Children´s Hospital Boston
- Seattle Children's Research Institute
- University of Michigan
- Vanderbilt University Vaccine Research Program
- American Academy of Family Physicians