Despite Warnings, Parents Opting Children Out of Vaccines

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Pediatricians are reporting an increase in the number of parents who refuse to have their children immunized against infectious diseases. The American Academy of Pediatrics discovered in a 2006 survey that roughly three-quarters of its members knew parents of children who did not want their young ones vaccinated. By 2013, the number of doctors grew to 90%.

Dr. Kathryn Edwards, the lead author of an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement published this week in the journal Pediatrics, said parents' beliefs about vaccines are changing as time passes. Andrew M. Seaman, reporting for Reuters, says about three-quarters of doctors explain that parents put off immunizations because of concerns about the discomfort. About the same amount of physicians say parents delay vaccinations due to fear of overwhelming the immune system.

"Parental concerns must be addressed, and concerns will vary among parents," the AAP says in its statement.

Other parents are worried that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is not safe and will increase a teenager's sexual activity, according to the narrative.

"Reassuring parents that the vaccine is safe and that there is no evidence that the HPV vaccine increases sexual activity may dispel their concerns," it states.

Roughly 94% of pediatricians who were polled in 2013 said they had attempted to educate mothers and fathers who would not have their children immunized. Approximately a third said parents' minds were changed because of the education.

Some pediatricians will not treat children whose parents refuse vaccinations. But, according to the AAP, these doctors need to ensure the young ones are still able to receive care and must assure parents that children will not be turned away if they are ill, said Edwards, who is a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

In another statement from the AAP, the academy says vaccinations are crucial to the public health infrastructure in America. Most states allow parents to opt out of the standard immunization schedule, and the AAP is supportive of exemptions based on medical conditions. But non-medical exceptions are considered inappropriate for the health of individual children, the health of the public, and for ethical reasons.

"As the measles outbreak in California, when you have large numbers of unvaccinated children, they also put those who are vaccinated at risk," said Edwards.

The risk is there because vaccinations are not 100% effective.

Much of the fear surrounding inoculations is linked to the continuing claims that there is a link between vaccines and autism. The belief that this connection exists was based on a paper that was later discredited. But even though this inaccurate information has been revealed, worried parents have taken their uneasiness to other levels.

For example, more parents are keeping their children away from the vaccines because they consider them to be "unnecessary." This notion was true for 63.4% of such parents in 2006 and 73.1% in 2013, writes Ariana Eunjung Cha for The Washington Post.

An outbreak of polio in 1916 infected approximately 27,000 people and resulted in the death of 6,000. Polio has appeared again in Afghanistan and Pakistan because of lowered immunization rates.

A rubella outbreak in 1964-65, similar to the current Zika scare, resulted in 1,000 miscarriages or abortions. The number of children born with defects was 20,000. Currently, children are given the rubella vaccine in the standard immunization cycle.

California is one of three states, joined by Mississippi and West Virginia, that has removed the "personal belief" exemption. All three do not allow exemptions to vaccines that are non-medical, says the Los Angeles Times' Melissa Healy.

"It's clear that states with more lenient exemptions policies have lower immunization rates, and it's these states where we have seen disease outbreaks occur as the rates slip below the threshold needed to maintain community immunity," said Dr. Geoffrey R. Simon, lead author of the medical exemptions policy statement. "Non-medical exemptions to immunizations should be eliminated," he said.

Catherine Hough-Telford, the lead author on the study, explains that as many people as possible should be vaccinated to create what is called "herd immunity," reports Mother Jones' Will Greenberg. When the infected population is limited, susceptible groups such as the elderly and infants are less likely to be affected.

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