Parents not always swayed to vaccinate children during disease outbreaks

Despite conventional wisdom, parents are not necessarily more likely to vaccinate their children when the risk of catching a disease is heightened, according to a new study.

The findings come amid global outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases and a recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that vaccination rates have remained largely unimproved and even fell in some demographics.

"We have always assumed that when the risk of catching a disease is high, people will accept a vaccine that is effective in preventing that disease. Our results may challenge this assumption," said lead researcher Dr. Elizabeth Wolf, a pediatric physician at Seattle Children's Research Institute.

When researchers compared rates of infant vaccination with the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine (DTaP) before and during an epidemic of pertussis in Washington state, they found no difference in vaccination rates. The study was presented May 5 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

From Oct. 1, 2011, through Dec. 31, 2012, Washington state experienced an uptick in pertussis--commonly known as whooping cough--which mostly affects infants. The highly contagious bacterial infection causes uncontrollable, violent coughing that can make it hard to breathe. In infants, the disease can be deadly, causing pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death.

The results also showed significant variability in vaccination rates among different counties.

- see the study abstract
- read the press release