Study: Parents need to be better informed about vaccines

Public health officials need to redesign vaccine information programs to address parental safety concerns or continued high childhood immunization rates will be at risk, conclude the authors of a study published recently in the journal Pediatrics.

Michigan researchers sent surveys to parents with children younger than 17 years in January 2009 and received 1,552 responses. A wide majority of respondents (90 percent) agreed that getting vaccines is a good way to protect their children from disease, and 88 percent said they generally listen to their doctors about vaccines. However, 54 percent said they had concerns about the potential for serious adverse effects of vaccines, and a quarter indicated they believe vaccines can cause autism. The parents were surveyed more than a year before the Lancet decided to retract Andrew Wakefield's controversial study linking vaccines to autism.

A number of parents (11.5 percent) said they had refused a vaccine for their child that their doctors had recommended. Researchers found parents were more likely to refuse the newer vaccines--specifically those that protected against chickenpox, HPV and meningitis. Of those who had refused a vaccine, more than half (56.4 percent) had turned down the HPV vaccine, and a just under a third had declined the chickenpox and meningitis vaccines (32.3 percent and 31.8 percent, respectively). Only 17.7 percent had refused the older MMR shot.

The potential for adverse events and the relative newness of the vaccines were the most frequently given reasons for refusing a vaccine. For example, 78 percent of those who had said no to the HPV vaccine agreed that there hasn't been enough research done on it, while three-quarters said that it hadn't been on the market long enough. Merck's Gardasil was licensed in 2006, while GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix was approved in October. Just over half said that moral or ethical concerns led them to refusing the HPV vaccine for their children.

The authors maintain it is likely parents would benefit from programs that highlight the rigorous safety assessments vaccines must go through before licensure and subsequent recommendation. "[I]f current safety concerns are not addressed effectively and increase in the future," more parents might refuse vaccines, reducing their child's protection against a potentially preventable disease, the authors caution.

- download a .pdf of the study