Parents still worry, retain misperceptions about childhood vaccines

June 10, 2011

The good news is that most parents in the United States are vaccinating their children against infectious diseases. However, a new study shows that many parents still harbor doubts about vaccine safety and effectiveness or question if so many childhood immunizations are necessary.

The good news is that most parents in the United States are vaccinating their children against infectious diseases. However, a new study shows that many parents still harbor doubts about vaccine safety and effectiveness or question if so many childhood immunizations are necessary.

The study appearing in Health Affairs used data from the Porter Novelli 2010 HealthStyles survey and focused on parents or guardians of 376 children aged 6 years and younger, examining their immunization intentions, concerns, and methods of finding information on vaccines and immunization.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, immunization levels for most recommended childhood vaccines among children aged 19 to 35 months were at or above the national goal of 90% for 2009. The researchers note, however, that high immunization rates do not reflect a high parental confidence in vaccines. Most parents probably are influenced by state requirements for children’s admission to day care or school, they say.

Eighty-three percent of the parents surveyed reported that they already had vaccinated or planned to vaccinate (11%) their children with all recommended vaccines. Just 5% said that they planned to vaccinate with some but not all vaccines, and 2% said their children would receive none of the vaccines. (Total exceeds 100% because of rounding.)

Only 23% of parents reported that they had no concerns about childhood vaccines. These parents already had or planned to have their children vaccinated. Those parents who planned some but not all recommended immunizations expressed more concerns. They were more likely to believe that children receive too many vaccines during the first 2 years of life (34%), that vaccines may cause learning disabilities such as autism (30%), and that ingredients in vaccines are not safe (26%).

Parents reported actively seeking information about vaccine safety: 24% reported seeking “a lot” of information and an additional 36% reported seeking “some” information. Their sources included the media and the Internet, but 85% of parents reported that health care professionals are 1 of the 3 most important sources of information for making decisions about children’s vaccines.

The researchers point out that because most parents responding to the survey had concerns related to childhood vaccines, it is important for health care providers, medical societies, and public health organizations to be sources of guidance and advice regarding immunizations. “Only through ongoing education and commitment to communication and dialog with parents can we be confident that children will get the vaccinations they need,” they write.

Kennedy A, LaVail K, Nowak G, Basket M, Landry S. Confidence about vaccines in the United States: understanding parents’ perceptions. Health Aff. 2011. Epub ahead of print.