Changing Parental Attitudes on Child Vaccinations
Pediatrics specialist Dennis Rosen says rebuilding trust between patients and health providers can change parental attitudes regarding child vaccinations and save young lives.
During the 15 years that have passed since I began my pediatric training, I have been involved in the care of dying children. Thankfully, this is not a regular part of my practice, and I can remember each of those children. Most were kids who succumbed to chronic disease that had slowly yet inexorably overwhelmed them: leukemia, cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease.
Sometimes, when nothing more could be done medically, all that remained was to sit by the bedside with the family and embrace the child as he passed away.
Any child’s death is tragic. Hardest to reconcile, though, are those deaths that might have been avoided. So why has the percentage of American parents refusing to vaccinate their children steadily risen over the last two decades (more than doubling between 1991-2004) despite the proven and unqualified success of childhood immunizations in reducing death and disability from infectious disease? According to one recent study on parental attitudes toward vaccinations, 13 percent of parents of children between the ages of 6 months and 6 years reported not vaccinating their children according to the recommended schedule. Nine percent refused some or all of the regular childhood immunizations for their children.
“Herd immunity” is a term that refers to the percentage of members of a certain population against a specific infectious agent needed to prevent the isolated incidence of infection from spreading broadly and turning into an epidemic. When one considers that the herd immunity threshold necessary to prevent the spread of measles, for example, is 92 to 94 percent, these findings are very worrisome. Not only does the refusal to vaccinate put the unimmunized at risk, it poses a serious threat to millions of others whose immune systems are compromised or deficient and unable to mount an adequate defense against infection.