More than one in 10 parents don’t follow the recommended vaccination schedule for their children, according to a new study. And one in four who do adhere to current guidelines say they still feel that it may not be the best or safest way to immunize youngsters.
Writing in the journal Pediatrics, Dr. Amanda Dempsey, a pediatrician at University of Michigan, and her colleagues unpack the often conflicting attitudes that parents have about vaccines. They polled a nationally representative sample of 748 parents, who were mostly in their 30s and 40s, and asked about whether they immunized their young children according to the recommendations laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC lays out specific age and dose schedules for vaccinating children against infectious disease like mumps, pertussis and measles. Thirteen percent of parents surveyed said did not follow the CDC’s guidelines, reporting that they skipped some or all vaccines; lengthened the recommended time between doses of certain immunizations; delayed some shots past the recommended age; and split up the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, receiving each part separately.
The vaccines that parents most often skipped were seasonal flu vaccine, the H1N1 flu vaccine and the chicken pox vaccine. Parents were lease likely to skip immunizations against polio and diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP).
The scientists also asked parents about their attitudes toward alternative schedules. Researchers expected a certain percentage of parents to adopt alternative schedules, but what surprised them was how conflicting or misguided parents’ views about vaccination could be — regardless of which vaccination schedule they followed.
For example, those who decided not to vaccinate their children against known vaccine-preventable disease, such as chicken pox, flu, mumps, measles and rubella, acknowledged that their decision could put other children in the community at risk of becoming infected, but they believed their own child would remain healthy. By failing to apply the increased risk to their own children, such parents exposed a blind spot in reasoning when it came to the health of their own families, the authors said.
Similarly, even parents who followed the CDC’s immunization guidelines said they had doubts about the safety of the schedule, with 22% reporting that they disagreed or strongly disagreed that the plan was the best one to follow. A similar percentage believed that delaying vaccines was also safer than currently recommended dosing plans.
“We were disturbed and somewhat surprised that parents who were following the regular [vaccination] schedule had a belief that made their likely future adherence to doses somewhat tenuous,” says Dempsey. “And we were somewhat surprised that 30% of those who followed the alternative plan had started out on the recommended plan.”
Prior to the study, child health experts had assumed that most parents who opted out of the current vaccination schedule had likely made that decision prior to the birth of their children, probably out of a pre-existing and deeply held belief about vaccine safety. But the study showed that many of such parents actually change their minds about vaccination, after initially following the government’s recommended schedule.