Parents show increased concern about vaccine safety

December 15, 2003

Four out of five doctors surveyed in 2000 reported at least one instance of parents refusing to have a child vaccinated during the previous year, according to a new study.

More than two-thirds of those doctors said parents showed more concern regarding vaccine safety than parents did in the past.

Researchers Gary L. Freed, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of Michigan and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from a survey of 743 physicians. Their findings appear in the January issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Most of the physicians said they recorded the parents' refusal of vaccines in the child's medical record, Freed says. Responses varied by specialty, however. Pediatricians were more likely than family physicians to provide additional information regarding vaccines to parents or to discuss the issue with parents at later visits.

Some parents may refuse to have their children immunized due to vaccine safety fears, whether those fears are real, unsubstantiated or even disproved, he says. Parents' most common fears focused on short-term reactions to the shots and pain from multiple injections. The doctors surveyed said that parents were also concerned about immune system effects, long-term serious complications, and the overall need for vaccines.

Many questions about the benefits and risks of immunization are addressed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's series of Vaccine Information Statements. However, Freed says, the physicians said that parents often expressed worries about issues not contained in the statements -- such as alleged (but now-discredited) associations with autism or multiple sclerosis.

"Both pediatricians and family physicians must be sensitive to parents' concerns and well prepared to respond to such concerns," he says. "Although physicians should provide Vaccine Information Statements at every vaccine visit -- as required by law for universally recommended childhood vaccines -- they may also need to provide supplementary materials to address all parental concerns adequately."
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BY AARON LEVIN, SCIENCE WRITER
HEALTH BEHAVIOR NEWS SERVICE

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