Study Shows Many Parents Still Don’t Trust Routine Childhood Vaccines

"Ideally, we'd like to immunize parents against all the misinformation that is out there."
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ByNehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
Jun 2020
nervous woman stands by window
Photo: Leon Harris / Getty Images

With researchers and experts still looking to find immunization for COVID-19, vaccines have been at the forefront of conversations across the country. But, one national study is finding that many parents are still hesitant about routine childhood immunizations.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics on June 15, 2020, found that 6.1 percent of parents were hesitant about routine childhood vaccinations, while close to 26 percent were hesitant about the flu vaccine.

“Our study provides the first national estimates of hesitancy about routine childhood and influenza vaccination among representative samples of U.S. parents of children, using a scale specifically developed and validated to assess vaccine hesitancy internationally,” the study’s lead author Allison Kempe, MD, MPH, professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and director of ACCORDS—which brings together investigators from across CU Anschutz Medical Campus to conduct research for real world impact—stated in a news release.

The study looked at data from 2,176 parents, finding that 12 percent strongly agreed and 27 percent somewhat agreed that they had concerns over serious side effects from both routine childhood and the influenza vaccines. Of the respondents, 70 percent strongly agreed that routine vaccines were effective, while only 26 percent said the same for the flu vaccine.

According to the study, those that had less than a bachelor’s degree tended to be more skeptical of the vaccinations. Researchers didn’t find race and ethnicity to play a major role, but they found Latinx parents were less hesitant than white parents about getting the flu vaccine.

“The fact that one in eight parents are still concerned about vaccine safety for both childhood and influenza vaccinations is discouraging,” Kempe, who practices at Children’s Hospital Colorado, stated in the release. “But what is driving the hesitancy about the influenza vaccine is primarily doubts about its effectiveness.”

While the flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective, Kempe said, even in a year where it isn’t well-matched to the circulating strains, the vaccine did lessen the severity of the flu. Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported vaccine hesitancy was one of the ten leading threats to global health.

Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated vaccine hesitancy as one of the ten leading threats to global health. Plus, as of 2018-2019, only 57.9 percent of American kids were vaccinated against the flu.

“That means in any given year more than 40% of children are not vaccinated against influenza,” Kempe stated. “We have already seen outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and mumps. Low vaccination rates among children for influenza vaccine makes influenza seasons more severe for all portions of the population, since children are a major conduit of the disease to vulnerable parts of the population such as the elderly.”

According to Kempe, understanding the reasons behind the hesitancy can help the issue. The study suggests focusing on changing behaviour rather than directly countering beliefs or attitudes. Some examples of this include strong and presumptive recommendations by a trusted provider, easier delivery of vaccines to clinics and schools, reminders and calls, enacting preschool and school flu vaccine requirements.

“There is evidence that communication techniques such as motivational interviewing can be helpful in convincing some hesitant parents to vaccinate in the primary care setting,” the study said. “The use of social media interventions, some of which involve trained parents as advocates for vaccination within their own communities, has shown some effectiveness in overcoming hesitancy.”

One of the best ways to combat vaccine hesitancy? Start conversations around immunization before baby is born. “Ideally, we’d like to immunize parents against all the misinformation that is out there,” Kempe said.

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