Despite widespread and concerted efforts to reassure parents about the safety and utility of vaccines, most parents continue to have concerns not only about the number of vaccines and frequency of administration, but also safety, side effects and proper testing, according to a new survey in Health Affairs.
"The widespread reports of concerns highlights an important point: Even if they are not associated with an intention to refuse some or all vaccines, concerns related to childhood vaccines are valid and need to be treated as such," write the authors, who work at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Health and Human Services' vaccine office.
The survey, which gather info from 376 parents or guardians of children six years old or younger, found that only 23 percent had no concerns about childhood vaccines. The level of concern was determined by dividing respondents into two groups: those who had had their youngest child receive all recommended vaccinations, or who intended that the child receive them; and those who did not intend to have their youngest child receive all recommended vaccinations (read the abstract).
As it turns out, 83 percent had already vaccinated their children with all recommendation vaccinations and 11 percent planned to do. Only 5 percent intended to vaccinate their children with some, but not all, of the vaccines, and just 2 percent indicated their children would not be vaccinated at all. The study did not use medical records to verify the findings, but the researchers write these are similar to the National Immunization Survey results, which are verified by healthcare providers.
"Parents intending their children to receive some, but not all, of the recommended vaccines demonstrated a more nuanced pattern of concerns related to childhood vaccinations," they write. "They were more likely than expected to believe that children receive too many vaccines during the first two years of life and that vaccines may cause learning disabilities, such as autism. On the other hand, they were less likely than expected to believe that diseases that weren’t serious were prevented by vaccines. These differences also were statistically significant."
Some specific figures: 38 percent say it's painful for children to receive so many shots during one doctor’s visit; 36 percent say their child is getting too many vaccines in one visit; 34 percent say children get too many vaccines during the first two years of life; 30 percent say vaccines may cause learning disabilities, such as autism; 26 percent say vaccine ingredients are unsafe; 17 percent say vaccines are not tested enough for safety, and 16 percent say vaccines may cause chronic disease.
Consequently, the survey found many parents are fairly engaged in seeking vaccine info. Most parents actively serach before vaccination - 24 percent sought out 'a lot' of info; and 36 percent tried to find 'some' info, while only 19 percent tried to find just 'a little' info about safety. But who are they asking and where are they looking?
Health care professionals were cited as one of the three most important sources of info by 85 percent, while family members were mentioned by 46 percent and friends were relied on by 22 percent. And 28 percent cited the the American Academy of Pediatrics and 26 percent mentioned the CDC as one of their top three sources.
The Internet was mentioned by 24 percent, which was higher than 10 percent cited in a similar survey done two years ago, the researchers note. But traditional media ranked less frequently as one of the top three sources of info for vaccine info. Newspapers were in the top three for 5 percent of parents, magazines and TV news program were important for 4 percent, radio for just 1 percent, and daytime or entertainment television shows for less than 1 percent.
"Discerning which parents have the least amount of confidence in routinely recommended vaccines is a complex task. Given the many individual vaccines in existence, it may be less, rather than more, useful to investigate broad concepts such as 'vaccine confidence' or 'vaccine hesitancy,' the researchers suggest in their conclusion. "It is also important to acknowledge that even if broad measures are developed and used, parents’ confidence may vary across specific vaccines."
vaccine pic thx to lulu on flickr