Parent and child vaccination decisions run hand in hand, study finds

A new study found that parents' decisions to get vaccinated directly impacted their child's vaccination status.

Parents could be the next front in an ongoing effort by pharma companies and U.S. health officials to boost childhood immunization rates. Published in the journal Pediatrics, a new study found that parents’ immunization behavior played a key role in their children’s vaccination status.

By looking at data on more than 450,000 pairs of parents and children from Oregon between 2010 and 2015, the researchers found that children whose parents received a seasonal influenza vaccine were 2.77 times more likely to receive the vaccine than their counterparts with unvaccinated parents. The benefit was seen across all flu seasons in the study, and for other immunizations such as HPV.

The difference was even greater when parents changed their own behavior during the study period. If a parent didn’t immunize at the start the study but then opted to receive a seasonal flu vaccine later on, their child was 5.44 times more likely to get a shot.

As the researchers point out, experts already know that parental vaccine attitudes play a role in vaccination decisions for their children. This is the first study to examine whether parental immunization status directly impacts child vaccinations.

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With the results, the researchers conclude that “tracking and encouraging parental immunization may lead to increases in children’s immunization rates.”

The info could prove useful for drugmakers and U.S. authorities who continually look for ways to boost immunization rates. The researchers noted that the “dynamic relationship” means “interventions targeting parents may lead to increased children’s immunization rates.” Alternatively, they figure, “not including parents and families in interventions aimed at improving childhood immunizations may limit their potential for success.”

After reviewing the findings, a spokesperson for the world’s top flu vaccine maker, Sanofi Pasteur, said the company “supports disease-awareness education and encourages parents to speak to their healthcare providers about the importance of immunization, so parents can feel confident about protecting themselves and their children.”

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The study comes on the heels of separate research that concluded electronic health record prompts represent another potential tool to boost flu vaccination rates.

In recent flu seasons, flu vaccine coverage rates for adults have hovered above 40%, while rates for children have come in shy of 60%. Last year, the CDC said a 5% boost in adult vaccination rates would have meant 300,000 fewer cases and 2,000 fewer hospitalizations.

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Earlier this year, the CDC reported that vaccines this season have been 48% effective in preventing a flu-related medical visit, down from 59% for last year and up from 19% the year before.

In all of 2015, adults who didn’t get their recommended vaccinations costed the U.S. economy $7.1 billion, according to an analysis by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.