95 percent of US children receive all their recommended vaccinations or would get them all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 2010 survey of parents in the US also found that about 5 percent of parents said they would decline having their child receive some vaccines, and 2 percent said their children would receive no vaccines. Further, many parents continue to have concerns about vaccines. Those who said their children would not get all the recommended vaccines often cite suspicions that vaccines or something in vaccines could be linked to autism, even though such theories have been widely discredited.
Writing in Health Affairs, Allison Kennedy, an epidemiologist in CDC’s Immunization Services Division, says that “… we did find that most parents do have questions or concerns about vaccines.” As she tells USA Today, “better education efforts could resolve those doubts.” In particular, doctors need information about the safety of vaccines to help reassure parents. Kennedy also cited recents outbreaks of mumps, measles and whooping cough in the US as reasons for parents to make sure their children do receive their immunizations.
Kennedy’s study, Confidence About Vaccines In The United States: Understanding Parents’ Perceptions, surveyed 376 households to find out parental attitudes toward childhood vaccination:
While 23 percent of the parents said they had no concerns about vaccines, most had one or more concerns, the researchers found.
Parents mentioned pain from the injection, getting too many shots at one time and the safety of ingredients in the vaccines.
Some parents also worried that vaccines could cause disease or are being given for illnesses children are unlikely to get, the investigators found.
Notably, one in three parents expressed dissatisfaction with the information they get “information they get from their children’s doctor about the safety and necessity of vaccines” and one-quarter get their information from the Internet.
Granted, people routinely turn to the Internet for information about health. It’s readily accessible — especially if it’s the middle of the night and your child breaks out into a strange rash for instance — and it’s empowering to find out such information on one’s own, rather than always having to rely on experts. The problem is in knowing what information is accurate. For a parent, even a “suspicion” that a vaccine might/could be a reason for a child having neurological damage is enough to raise doubts.
As Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the division of infectious diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, has written in his most recent book, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, suspicion about vaccines has existed for as long as vaccines themselves have. As he says in USA Today:
“I try to reassure parents with the science,” he said. And he tells them that a decision against vaccination is not risk-free. “It’s a choice to take a different and more serious risk,” he explained
“We are seeing outbreaks of measles, mumps and whooping cough to degrees we haven’t seen in the previous 10 years. It’s a dangerous and, frankly, a misinformed choice not to get a vaccine,” he said.
Before vaccines, whooping cough killed 8,000 children in the United States annually, diphtheria was a common cause of death among young people, and polio caused tens of thousands of cases of paralysis, he pointed out. Measles resulted in 3,000 to 5,000 deaths, Offit said.
Even though the data linking vaccines to autism has been discredited, some people still believe it, he noted.
Scientific studies disputing a vaccine-autism link often, sadly, do not seem to reassure parents who (often again through the Internet) find “studies” that seem to offer “evidence” to the contrary. People do need to be kept informed about more research pointing to a genetic basis for autism spectrum disorders, and that getting an infectious disease like measles is serious and life-threatening. Raising an autistic child like my son has many challenges but we are grateful that he is healthy and happy, and yes, he is up-to-date on his immunizations.
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Photo by Andres Rueda.