In response to an upswell of vaccine hesitancy and refusal since 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is arming pediatricians with another tool to force the issue. In a new report, AAP says as a “last resort,” pediatricians may dismiss families who don’t listen to the science and ultimately refuse vaccines.
It’s a reversal from AAP’s stance in the past, but one that was justified as “practitioners were having problems” with parents who wouldn’t comply with vaccine schedules, Kathryn Edwards, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program and report co-author, told AAP News.
As the report notes, “there is anecdotal evidence that when pediatricians give parents the choice between immunizing their child or being dismissed, some parents accept vaccination, even when other efforts at persuasion have failed.”
The new position comes as pediatricians are increasingly encountering parents who have doubts about vaccines or who flat-out refuse them. According to a survey cited in the report, 9.1% of parents refused one or more vaccine in 2007; the figure grew to 16.7% in 2013. The parents said they believed vaccines are unnecessary or can cause autism.
The authors made it clear that a pediatrician’s decision to dismiss families should not be taken lightly and should be made only after exhaustive efforts to encourage vaccinations.
“Pediatricians should keep in mind that many, if not most, vaccine-hesitant parents are not opposed to vaccinating their children; rather, they are seeking guidance about the issues involved, beginning with the complexity of the schedule and the number of vaccines proposed,” the report said.
New research on the methods to communicate the importance of vaccines is needed, the authors concluded. The report will be published in Pediatrics.
“The clear message parents should hear is that vaccines are safe and effective, and serious disease can occur if your child and family are not immunized,” the authors wrote.
Low immunization rates played a role in the 2015 Disneyland measles outbreak, and misinformation continues to plague public health officials and vaccine developers. In HPV vaccines, for instance, developers Merck ($MRK) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) have encountered a sex stigma, safety worries and antivaccine campaigns in their efforts to grow uptake.
Outside of the U.S., the WHO recently said vaccine hesitancy is a global problem, adding that in some cases, strategies to encourage vaccination are inadequate.
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