The ongoing controversy over vaccine safety is taking a toll on the recommended vaccination schedule. As many as 13 percent of parents of young children now use an alternative schedule and, moreover, a large proportion of parents currently following the recommended routine seem to be “at risk” for switching to an alternative, according to a study in Pediatrics.
You may recall that, by age 6, children should have vaccinations against 14 diseases, in at least two dozen separate doses, according to federal government advisories. But even parents whose kids have adhered to the schedule are questioning federal health policy: 28 percent of those parents think delaying shots is safer than following the recommended schedule.
Of the 13 percent who now follow alternative schedules, 53 percent refused only certain vaccines and 55 percent reported delaying some vaccines until their child was older. Only 17 percent of that subset reported refusing any and all vaccines (read the abstract). But the results suggest more than 2 million infants and young children may not be fully protected against preventable diseases, the Associated Press writes.
However, the AP reminds us that recent data showed a record number of parents of kindergartners in California last year used a personal belief exemption to avoid vaccine requirements. And the Pediatrics survey of 748 parents mirrors a larger federal survey released last month showing at least one in 10 toddlers and preschoolers lagged on vaccines, including chickenpox and the measles-mumps-rubella combination shots.
One mom in Lakeville, Minnesota, is among those delaying vaccination for her kids. Kandace O'Neill tells the AP that her 5-year-old son has not been vaccinated since he turned 1, and her 7-month-old daughter has received none of the recommended shots. "I have to make sure that my child is healthy, and I do not want to put medications in my child that I think are going to harm them," O'Neill tells the AP. She adds, by the way, that she is not against vaccination, but thinks that parents - not doctors or schools - should make medical decisions for their children.
Such skepticism is fueled by the Internet and media reports, according to Amanda Dempsey, the lead author of the study and a pediatrician and researcher at the University of Michigan. As an example, she points to the infamous debate over links between vaccines and autism, although a new federal analysis maintained vaccines are safe for children (see here and here). Dempsey, by the way, has been a paid adviser to Merck on issues regarding a vaccine for older children, but tells the AP the drugmaker did not contribute to the survey research.
The issue of parent decision making also reflects the ongoing controversy over a particular Merck vaccine - the Gardasil shot used to prevent HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer. In recent months, the vaccine has generated renewed controversy in California, for instance, where a bill would remove parental consent for vaccinating children 12 and older against sexually transmitted diseases. The California Catholic Conference, for instance, sent notices warning parents that minors do not have adequate judgment about vaccination (read here).
Various diseases that health experts say vaccines can prevent include flu and whooping cough, which can be deadly, especially in infants. Buddy Creech, an associate director of Vanderbilt University's Vaccine Research Program, has two school-aged children who are fully vaccinated and a newborn who. he tells the AP, will be given all the recommended vaccinations. "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," he says. The AP notes that Creech has served on advisory boards for vaccine makers and received research grants.
Meanwhile, Larry Pickering, an infectious disease specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tells the AP that he supports the idea of parents being actively involved in medical care for their children, but cautioned that "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."
vaccine pic thx to lulu on flickr