April 18, 2011 -- Two new studies seek to better understand parents’ attitudes about vaccine safety and analyze potential barriers to routine childhood vaccination. The new reports appear in a special vaccine safety supplement in journal Pediatrics.
There has been some concern about vaccine safety and risks in recent years due in part to the increasing number of recommended vaccines, conflicting safety information, and a widely publicized study suggesting that certain vaccines may increase risk for autism. This study was publically refuted, but it has had lasting repercussions on some parent’s attitudes about vaccine safety. As a result, there has been some concern about a possible resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles.
In one report, the majority of parents with at least one child aged 6 or younger believe that vaccines are important for their children’s health and they were “confident” or "very confident” in vaccine safety. Overall, 93.4% said that their youngest child had received or would receive all the recommended vaccines. But parents did express some concerns about pain from the shots, too many vaccines during one visit, and fever.
About one in five parents were not confident about the safety and importance of childhood vaccines.
“In general, the study results are very reassuring,” says study author Allison Kennedy, MPH, an epidemiologist at the CDC in Atlanta. “Overall, parents had high confidence in vaccine safety and most plan to fully vaccinate their child, but we also saw that parents did have questions and some concerns even if they were planning to fully vaccinate their children."
The main source of information on childhood immunization and vaccine safety in this study was the pediatrician and/or nurse.
Discuss Concerns With Pediatrician
Doctors can help ease some of these concerns by explaining to parents why vaccines are bunched together, as well providing information on vaccine-preventable illnesses, she says.
“They can also tell parents what to look for after the shots and how to manage those issues as well,” she says.
“Pain is a concern, and we can’t tell if it is a deal breaker or not, but there are comfort measures that parents can take,” says another of the study's researchers, Kristine Sheedy, MPH, associate director of communication science for the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
For example, breastfeeding, sweet-tasting liquid, pacifiers, distraction, and the use of local numbing agents may reduce pain and crying among infants getting vaccinated.
Despite some backlash, “at a national level, we have maintained record-high immunization rates and the number of children who are completely unvaccinated remains below 1%,” Sheedy says. “There are challenges in various pockets, but we are fortunately doing OK nationwide.”
Parents Take Celebrities' Advice on Vaccine Safety
In a second study, researchers found that while parents tend to place a lot of trust in their child's doctor when it comes to vaccine safety information; they sometimes also give credence non-health professionals, including celebrities.
Celebrities were trusted a lot for vaccine safety information by 2% of study participants and not at all by 76% of the participants.
“Ideally, physicians should have the best and most reliable vaccine information for parents, and they have an obligation to have the facts about vaccine safety at their disposal,” says study author Gary Freed, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.
Importantly, “celebrities discuss their own anecdotal experiences and should not be viewed as credible, true scientific sources,” he says. “It is dangerous when people who are not experts in a field are seen as experts."
“Parents will get misinformation, disinformation, and incorrect information, which may result in them making bad decisions for their children and leaving them unprotected against life-threatening but preventable diseases,” he says.