Thanks to immunization programs that require children to receive vaccinations, infectious diseases like smallpox and polio have been completely or nearly eradicated in the United States. Rates of most other vaccine-preventable diseases have been reduced by 98% to 99%, and studies have shown that serious side effects of the vaccines are rare. Although most school-age children do receive vaccinations, parents of children with certain religious or philosophical beliefs may choose to exempt their children from some or all of the recommended childhood immunizations.
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, the Washington State Department of Health in Olympia, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, surveyed parents from Colorado, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Washington whose children didn't receive all of the recommended childhood vaccines because their parents claimed exemptions from childhood vaccines for nonmedical reasons (parents of children who had medical conditions that exempted them from vaccinations weren't included). Parents verified which vaccines their children had received and reported why they chose to forgo certain vaccinations. The responses from these parents were compared to responses of parents whose children were fully vaccinated.
More than two-thirds of parents of children not fully vaccinated said that they didn't vaccinate their children because they thought the vaccine might be harmful. Other parents said they thought the vaccine might overload the child's immune system. About 37% of parents thought their children weren't at risk for the disease and cited that as the reason for forgoing the vaccine.
Compared to parents of vaccinated children, parents of children in the vaccine refusal group were:
- less likely to report that children benefit from full vaccination
- less likely to report trusting the government
- more likely to report that vaccine companies benefit when a child is fully vaccinated
- more likely to report that a family member used complementary or alternative medicine, such as a chiropractor
- more likely to report receiving vaccine information from a wide variety of health care sources
- less likely to report that their child's primary care provider was a doctor
What This Means to You: This study explores some of the beliefs that parents of children who aren't fully vaccinated might hold about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Asking questions about the safety and effectiveness of your child's health care and medical treatments is a positive parenting trait - just be sure to get all the facts before making a major decision like forgoing childhood vaccinations. Many of the childhood diseases vaccines prevent can cause severe health complications and, in some cases, death. Nearly all health experts and scientists believe that childhood vaccines are safe and effective, and that the benefits of immunizing your child far outweigh any risks. Talk to your child's doctor if you have any questions about the safety or effectiveness of recommended vaccinations.
Source: Daniel A. Salmon, PhD, MPH; Lawrence H. Moulton, PhD; Saad B. Omer, MBBS, MPH; M. Patricia deHart, ScD; Shannon Stokley, MPH; Neal A. Halsey, MD; Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, May 2005
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2005