Vaccine concerns common among parents of young children

Many who have questions about safety still value childhood immunizations, a study shows.

By — Posted June 20, 2011

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Family physicians and pediatricians should be prepared to talk to parents during office visits about the safety of vaccine ingredients, pain from the shots and the number of immunizations recommended for young children. These are some of parents' most common worries about childhood vaccines, according to a study published in the June issue of Health Affairs.

The report found that while about 8 in 10 parents follow the childhood vaccination schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many have concerns about immunizations. Those concerns include short-term vaccine side effects such as fever and the possibility of a link between immunizations and autism. Numerous studies have rejected any association between autism and vaccines.

Addressing these worries is critical to ensuring that parents continue to immunize their children, said lead study author Allison Kennedy, an epidemiologist in the CDC's Immunization Services Division.

"Vaccination is a process and a decision that is made over and over again for [each child] in a family. Keeping up that dialogue makes sure parents understand" the importance of immunizations, Kennedy said.

Researchers examined data on 376 adults who participated in the 2010 HealthStyles survey, which examines parental vaccine behaviors, attitudes and concerns. Participants were parents or guardians of at least one child 6 or younger. The data were weighted to the 2009 Current Population Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau to be nationally representative.

Pain, frequency of shots raise concerns

Researchers found that about 77% of parents had at least one concern about immunizing their children. The top worries were the pain involved with receiving vaccines and the number of immunizations administered in a single office visit and in a child's first two years.

About 1 in 4 parents is concerned that vaccine ingredients are unsafe. About 1 in 9 says children are not likely to develop the diseases that the recommended vaccines prevent.

Immunization concerns were more common among parents whose children received some of the suggested vaccines than in parents whose children got all of the immunizations.

Study co-author Glen Nowak, senior adviser at the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, encourages physicians to remember that many parents who have questions about vaccine safety still value childhood immunizations. In fact, 94% of parents immunized their children with all the recommended vaccines or plan to do so, the study showed.

Five percent of parents intend to get their children immunized against some of the recommended vaccines, and 2% refused all immunizations. (The total exceeds 100% because the figures were rounded, study authors said.)

Parents said they received vaccine information from pediatricians, relatives, friends and the Internet.

The study recommends that physicians take all concerns related to childhood vaccines seriously and tailor information to meet parents' needs. Such information should include a thorough explanation of why infant immunizations should be administered before age 2. Kennedy said children younger than 2 are vulnerable to contracting severe disease.

"The good news is that almost all parents are getting their children vaccinated, but that doesn't necessarily mean all parents have a high level of confidence in those vaccines," Kennedy said. "These findings point us toward what we need to focus on to better answer questions and concerns parents have about why immunization is important."

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Parents' vaccine concerns

Although most parents have their children immunized, many are concerned about vaccine safety. Here are parents' most common worries about immunizing children 6 and younger:

38%: It is painful for children to receive so many shots during a single doctor visit.
36%: My child is getting too many vaccines in one doctor visit.
34%: Children get too many vaccines during the first two years of life.
32%: Vaccines may cause fevers in my child.
30%: Vaccines may cause learning disabilities, such as autism.
26%: The ingredients in vaccines are unsafe.
17%: Vaccines are not tested enough for safety.
16%: Vaccines may cause chronic disease.
11%: Vaccines are given to children to prevent diseases they are not likely to get.
9%: My child will not be vaccinated in time because some vaccines are in short supply.
8%: Vaccines are given to children to prevent diseases that are not serious.
23%: I have no concerns.

Source: "Confidence About Vaccines In the United States: Understanding Parents' Perceptions," Health Affairs, June (link)

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External links

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's resources for vaccine conversations with parents (link)

2011 Child & Adolescent Immunization Schedules, CDC (link)

Recommendations and guidelines: Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, CDC (link)

"Confidence About Vaccines In The United States: Understanding Parents' Perceptions," Health Affairs, June (link)

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