ANN ARBOR, Mich. - New vaccines offer many chances to protect children's health, and there are more vaccines available now for kids than ever before. Parents hear a lot of information about the benefits of vaccines, but they also hear about dangers that can come with shots. How are parents making sense of all this conflicting information?
In the latest national study from the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit at the University of Michigan, researchers report that 90 percent of parents believe that getting vaccines helps protect children from disease. The study also shows that 54 percent are concerned about serious side effects from vaccines and 25 percent believe that some vaccines cause autism. This study was conducted as part of the U-M C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health and is now available online in the journal Pediatrics.
"Our study shows the vast majority of parents in the United States, nine in 10, are confident about the protection that vaccines give children," says lead author Gary L. Freed, M.D., M.P.H., professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases in the CHEAR Unit at the U-M Medical School. "But about one of every two parents in our study also expressed concerns about negative side effects they believe can occur with vaccines. Health care providers are often faced with the need to address this type of concern from parents."
Parents' concern that some vaccines may cause autism is particularly disturbing, Freed says.
"All reputable evidence on this issue fails to show a link between vaccines and autism," Freed says. "But it appears that current public health education efforts on this issue have not yet satisfied many parents' concerns."
After this study was conducted by Freed and his colleagues, a prominent article that allegedly linked autism to vaccines was retracted by the journal that originally published it because it was discovered to have been based on false data.
Parents' hesitation about vaccines has, in some cases, led them to postpone vaccinations for their children.
The study found that 12 percent of parents have refused at least one vaccine that their children's doctor recommended. The vaccine most often refused (56 percent among refusers) was human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine - to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts in girls and women. Vaccines against meningitis (32 percent), chickenpox (32 percent), and measles/mumps/rubella (18 percent) were refused less frequently.
Parents' reasons for refusing vaccines differed by vaccine. For the HPV vaccine, the most common reason (78 percent of refusers) was that parents believed there "had not been adequate research on the vaccine." In comparison, for the chickenpox vaccine, the most common reason for refusal was that parents felt they would "rather have my child get the disease."
"The finding that parents' have varying reasons for refusing different vaccines is a very important discovery," Freed says. "It shows us that parents are weighing the pros and cons for each vaccine for their children. Sometimes, health care providers think that parents who are against one vaccine will be against all of them. But that does not seem to be the case. Most parents who refuse vaccines are picking each one deliberately."
This study also found differences in attitudes regarding childhood vaccines by gender and race. Mothers were more likely than fathers to be concerned about serious side effects from vaccines, and to have ever refused vaccines for their children. Hispanic/Latino parents were more likely than white and black parents to believe that vaccines cause autism, while black parents were more likely than Hispanic/Latino and white parents to have ever refused a recommended vaccine.
Authors: Along with Freed, co-authors from the Division of General Pediatrics at the U-M C.S. Mott Children's Hospital were Sarah J. Clark, Amy T. Butchart, Dianne Singer and Matthew M. Davis.
Methodology: This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc, for U-M C.S. Mott Children's Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered in January 2009 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents aged 18 and older (n=1,552) from the Knowledge Networks standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 62 percent among panel members contacted to participate.
Purpose/Funding: The U-M C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health - funded by the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and part of the CHEAR Unit at the U-M Health System - is designed to measure major health care issues and trends for U.S. children and their families.
Citation: Pediatrics, Vol. 125 No. 4