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Parental Vaccine Safety Concerns in 2009

Posted Feb 28 2010 9:00pm

A paper in today’s issue of pediatrics looks at vaccine safety concerns amongst parents. The paper

Parental Vaccine Safety Concerns in 2009
Gary L. Freed, Sarah J. Clark, Amy T. Butchart, Dianne C. Singer, and Matthew M. Davis. All of the University of Michigan.

the abstract states:

OBJECTIVE: Vaccine safety concerns can diminish parents’ willingness to vaccinate their children. The objective of this study was to characterize the current prevalence of parental vaccine refusal and specific vaccine safety concerns and to determine whether such concerns were more common in specific population groups.

METHODS: In January 2009, as part of a larger study of parents and nonparents, 2521 online surveys were sent to a nationally representative sample of parents of children who were aged ?17 years. The main outcome measures were parental opinions on vaccine safety and whether the parent had ever refused a vaccine that a doctor recommended for his or her child.

RESULTS: The response rate was 62%. Most parents agreed that vaccines protect their child(ren) from diseases; however, more than half of the respondents also expressed concerns regarding serious adverse effects. Overall, 11.5% of the parents had refused at least 1 recommended vaccine. Women were more likely to be concerned about serious adverse effects, to believe that some vaccines cause autism, and to have ever refused a vaccine for their child(ren). Hispanic parents were more likely than white or black parents to report that they generally follow their doctor’s recommendations about vaccines for their children and less likely to have ever refused a vaccine. Hispanic parents were also more likely to be concerned about serious adverse effects of vaccines and to believe that some vaccines cause autism.

CONCLUSIONS: Although parents overwhelmingly share the belief that vaccines are a good way to protect their children from disease, these same parents express concerns regarding the potential adverse effects and especially seem to question the safety of newer vaccines. Although information is available to address many vaccine safety concerns, such information is not reaching many parents in an effective or convincing manner. Pediatrics 2010;125:654–659

The study was a survey of households with children. They contacted extra Hispanic and African-American households to get better statistics on those groups. But they normalized the data to account for this “oversampling”.

Table 3 shows that 11.5% of parents have rejected at least one recommended vaccine. Most listed the HPV (human papillomavirus) as the rejected vaccine. HPV is new, and is given to teenage girls to prevent a viral infection known to be a cause of cervical cancer. (click to enlarge)

Table 4 shows parental attitudes for a number of vaccines. Reasons for rejecting vaccines vary from “I would rather my child got this disease” to “I personally know someone who experienced a harmful adverse event”. (click to enlarge)

The survey explored the views of parents on the autism/vaccine question:

One current specific immunization safety concern has been the spurious association of vaccines with autism. Although peer-reviewed original scientific research and multiple expert committees that have reviewed all available data on this issue have failed to show any association between vaccines and autism, anecdotally the concern continues to affect parents. Our study indicates that a disturbingly high proportion of parents, >1 in 5, continue to believe that some vaccines cause autism in otherwise healthy children. This finding indicates that current public health education campaigns on this issue have not been effective in allaying the concerns of many parents. Officials must attempt to develop more effective and targeted education campaigns that focus directly on this issue if their goal is to match parents’ level of concern with the available scientific evidence. Recently, the use of newer social marketing techniques have been suggested as potential strategies to address vaccine safety concerns.

>1 in 5 believe the “vaccines cause autism” story. Amazing. I’m sure that will be seen as a both a victory and a challenge to the groups pushing that message.

I hate to say it, but someone needs to. This study may be the most valuable study the trial lawyers working on autism/vaccine cases have seen. Much more so than the bad science of the Geiers or the speculation in Medical Hypotheses. Where this will be valuable will be in helping select a jury that is as sympathetic to their cause as possible.

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