Many parents ask doctors to administer their children's immunizations on a schedule that is different from the standard immunization plan — but that may not be wise.
Most often, doctors agree to the requests, although they know that any delays can put children at risk for serious and preventable diseases, and can make the administration of the vaccinations more painful, according to researchers in a report in the journal Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics, writes Andrew M. Seaman reporting for Reuters.
The number of parents who actually refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated is small — only 2% to 3%, says Dr. Allison Kempe, the study's leader — but, she said, there are more parents asking to deviate from the established schedule in various ways. Kempe, from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado, said she expected that doctors would get these types of requests, but had no idea they would occur as often as the study found.
"I was surprised by over 20 percent of doctors saying 10 percent or more of their families (had asked) to spread out vaccines," she said.
Both the CDC and AAP recommend certain shots in the first years of life to protect against diseases. The AAP explains that the schedule is carefully designed to work with the immune systems of children, and at the same time protect them from diseases as soon as possible.
The report has been published just as the US is battling a measles outbreak tied to Disneyland in California that infected 154 people from 17 states and Washington, DC. It consisted of 534 completed surveys sent to 815 doctors and pediatricians nationwide. In all, 93% of the doctors had received at least one parental request to space out the immunizations for a child younger than two years old. Also, 21% of those doctors said about 10% of families made such a request.
The reasons for such requests included concerns about reactions or side effects and the denial that their children would get a vaccine-preventable illness. In 2009, a similar survey found that 13% of doctors often or always agreed to to spread vaccinations out. The current study showed that 37% of doctors do so now.
"A lot of them feel what they're doing isn't making a difference," Kempe said, adding that organizations like the AAP have recommended techniques for discussing vaccines. "I am not convinced that we have the right methods to counter this," she said.
She continued by saying that a combination of techniques is needed, including education during pregnancy, responsible media reporting, lessened use of philosophical exemptions, and more collaboration between the public and health departments, reports The Canadian Press. Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said:
Some parents fear that it's "too many, too soon," because they've heard that all those jabs "overwhelm" a baby's immune system. "But there's no science behind that idea," said Offit, who was not involved in the new study. "Worse," he added, "delaying certain shots only increases the amount of time that kids are susceptible to disease."
The Associated Press reports vaccinations against 14 diseases are recommended for children under two, starting at birth and given every few months after. Young children can be given as many as five shots at one time if the vaccine schedule is followed correctly. Dr. Robert Frenck, an infectious diseases specialist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and not a part of the study, gave this warning:
"People just don't understand that these diseases are all there, they're not gone. They're just being kept at bay right now. If people stop vaccinating, they come right back."