Doctors demonstrate the true impact of vaccination

With Children Back in School, Doctors Clear up Confusion and Demonstrate the True Impact of Vaccination

With a hot, hazy, humid summer now behind us, back-to-school means "back to reality" for many Ontarian families.  Back-to-school also means children are at higher risk for infections as they're often in tight quarters with their peers.  So before kids face a new year of quizzes and assignments, parents need to do their homework and ensure their kids' immunizations are up-to-date.  The Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) today released new research examining parents' views on immunization - and the results are surprising.

From nerves, to pressure, to guilt - according to new poll data commissioned by the OCFP, many parents are struggling with conflicting emotions when it comes to making decisions on whether to immunize their children.  This is in spite of data that shows vaccines have saved the lives of more children than any other medical intervention in the past 50 years. 

According to the survey, a third of Ontarian parents (33 per cent) who have or plan on immunizing their children were/are nervous to do so, and 23 per cent feel it is/was a difficult decision. Forty-two per cent of parents feel/felt pressure to immunize their child, either from school (43 per cent), physicians (43 per cent) or society in general (39 per cent).

"Admittedly, there is a lot to consider when it comes to immunization, and family physicians are aware of the angst parents feel when deciding to immunize their child," says Dr. Val Rachlis, family physician and past president of the Ontario College of Family Physicians. "Immunization for children begins in their infancy which can be difficult for new parents - but as family physicians it's our job to help ease the entire family into the immunization process.  There's a lot of misinformation out there, but the bottom line is simple: immunizations save lives."

Heart vs. Head: Which Side Wins?The decision to immunize is difficult for many parents, even though the majority (79 per cent) of those who have or plan on immunizing their children believe the danger of infectious diseases significantly outweighs the concerns about immunizing against them.  For many parents though, the process has become a very personal debate of "science vs. sentiment" - the idea that although the science backs up the case for immunization, the emotional side of the decision weighs heavily on parents.

The new poll data found that parents' fear factors include:

  • The "what if" factor that something could go wrong (34 per cent)
  • Alleged links to other diseases (25 per cent)
    o Thirty two per cent of parents with children under the age of two cite this as a concern
  • Parents' not wanting to give their children medication they don't need (24 per cent)
  • Hurting their children was of particular concern for parents aged 18 to 35 (11 per cent)
  • Feeling their baby "is too young for those needles" (14 per cent of parents with children under two)
  • Having more confidence in the vaccines that have been used for decades versus some of the new immunizations (71 per cent)

"Feeling over-protective or worried is normal, but the reality is vaccines are among the safest tools of modern medicine," reminds Jan Kasperski, chief executive officer of The Ontario College of Family Physicians.  "Parents need to talk to their children's doctors about the myths and facts about immunization. They shouldn't just rely on what they're reading online."

Sixty-three per cent of parents who have or plan on immunizing their children say there is a lot of conflicting information available about immunization safety and they cite a number of resources where they are getting their information including websites and blogs (21 per cent), family (20 per cent), and friends (16 per cent). 

Sticking It To Infectious Disease Is Good Medicine:It's a perfect time of year to check on your child's immunization status since back-to-school means children are at a higher risk of vaccine-preventable infections due to the constant exposure to large groups of other kids.  There are currently mass immunization programs in place to protect Canadian children from the following 13 diseases:

  1. Diptheria
  2. Tetanus
  3. Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
  4. Polio
  5. Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
  6. Measles
  7. Mumps
  8. Rubella (German measles)
  9. Varicella (Chickenpox)
  10. Hepatitis B
  11. Pneumococcal disease
  12. Meningococcal disease
  13. Influenza (The flu)

Doctors and other public health experts in Canada have established the optimal (e.g., most complete and safest) vaccination schedule for children. It is important for parents to ensure their children get all immunizations on time since skipping or delaying immunization can leave children vulnerable to disease.

It's Never Too Late For Adult ImmunizationThe importance of immunization doesn't stop after childhood - adults need to keep their vaccinations updated too.  But nearly two-thirds of parents (62 per cent) are not sure what immunization requirements they have as an adult and most (61 per cent) do not regularly ask their doctor about their own immunization requirements.

"It's not uncommon to become confused or forget which vaccines we've had and whether they are up-to-date," adds Kasperski. "An easy way for adults to keep track is to make a point of revisiting their immunization records with their physician each mid-decade birthday - for example at 25, 35, 45 years, etc."

The following is a detailed breakdown of the various types of vaccinations and who should be getting them: 

According to The World Health Organization, immunization saves three million lives globally each year. Here in the developed world, immunization has been so successful that diseases such as smallpox have been eradicated, and polio, diphtheria, mumps and measles are rarely ever seen.  But that doesn't mean these diseases are no longer a concern - and that's why maintaining immunizations is key.  For more information on immunization, parents should speak with their family physician. 

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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