More than 10 percent of U.S. parents use an “alternative” vaccination schedule for immunizing their children, putting their kids and others at risk of becoming infected with diseases such as measles and whooping cough, researchers reported on Monday.
But only 2 percent declined all vaccines, the survey of 771 parents of children ages 6 months to 6 years found.
“Small decreases in vaccine coverage are known to lead to dramatic increases in the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks,” Dr. Amanda Dempsey of the University of Michigan and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, who led the study published in the journal Pediatrics, said in a statement. “Not following the recommended schedule leaves kids at risk for these diseases unnecessarily.”
The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have a clear schedule for vaccinating children to protect them from diseases. It is based in part on when they are most likely to be exposed, and also on when their immune systems will best respond. But many parents worry that giving their child multiple vaccinations at once may be harmful, although many studies have shown this is not the case.
Doctors count on most children being vaccinated to achieve what is known as herd immunity, and to protect vulnerable children who cannot be vaccinated because they are too young or because they have immune system disorders, as well as people whose immune systems are damaged by cancer therapy and other treatments.
Parents most commonly delayed the measles-mumps-rubella or MMR vaccine (45 percent of the time) and the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine (43 percent of the time).
“More resources need to be devoted to finding ways to successfully change where attitudes are going,” Dempsey said. “Clearly this problem is not going to go away, and our data suggests it will actually get worse over time.”