According to a new study some parents choose alternative schedules for vaccinating their children and yet others decide their own vaccine timelines.
The study, published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, asked 771 parents with kids age 6 months to 6 years old about vaccination schedules and their attitudes toward vaccinating their children. In this group, 13% said they used a vaccination plan that varied from the recommended schedule. Of those alternative vaccinators, 80% to 95% had anti-vaccination positions, 65% said they'd used alternative schedules for their other children, and 17% said no to all vaccines for their young children.
It was noted that parents who chose different schedules refused some vaccines and delayed others until the child was older (H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines were most commonly refused, and those most often delayed were measles-mumps-rubella and varicella). Choosing an alternate vaccine schedule was found to be linked with the child not having a regular healthcare provider.
These parents who chose a different time table also were seen to have found support from their doctors; 40% said their physician “seemed supportive,” and 22% said their pediatrician was the one who recommended the alternate schedule. The study authors note that they didn't determine why the doctor might have suggested that, but added that it could have been due to the children being sick at the time of the vaccination or because of vaccine shortages.
Almost a quarter of those disagreed or strongly disagreed with the notion that conforming to the recommended schedule was a good idea. One in five of those parents believed that delaying vaccines was safer than getting them at the suggested times.
These results are in line with a larger federal survey released last month, showing that at least 1 in 10 toddlers and preschoolers lagged on vaccines that included chickenpox and the measles-mumps-rubella combination shots. That survey, also for 2010, included more than 17,000 households.
“These findings highlight the need to develop strategies quickly to prevent the spread of attitudes and beliefs that counter vaccination,” the authors of this new study wrote. “Fortunately, previous work suggested that many parents who are 'on the fence' about vaccination have views that might be modifiable through targeted educational approaches.”
Study author Dr. Amanda Dempsey, a pediatrician and researcher at the University of Michigan, said vaccine skepticism is fueled by erroneous information online and media reports that sensationalize misconceptions. These include the persistent belief among some parents about an autism-vaccine link despite scientific evidence to the contrary and the debunking of one of the most publicized studies that first fueled vaccine fears years ago. Some parents also dismiss the severity of vaccine-preventable diseases because they've never seen a child seriously ill with those illnesses.
Dempsey, the survey's lead author, has been a paid adviser to Merck on issues regarding a vaccine for older children but said that company made no contributions to the survey research. Knowledge Networks conducted the survey, which had an error margin of plus or minus 5 percentage points. The CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians are among groups that provide online vaccine information based on medical research.