A new survey has found that doctors acquiesce to requests for delayed vaccinations in order to build trust with families, despite most doctors feeling the practice causes more pain to children and puts them at elevated risk of contracting illness, according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics on Monday.
The study was released as outbreaks of measles increase in frequency in the US. The virus is one of the most contagious diseases known to science, and of the approximately 20 million people around the world who contract the disease each year, 146,000 die. The disease was nearly eradicated in America – the measles vaccine reduced occurrences of the illness by 99% – but since 2008 cases have increased.
The virus is part of the measles, mumps and rubella series of vaccinations , one that has become particularly controversial in recent years. False claims that vaccinations could lead to autism, thoroughly debunked, have led to skepticism about their safety despite the lack of scientific evidence.
About 13% of families are believed to delay or undervaccinate their children in some fashion, though researchers say available data is not comprehensive.
Of all the doctors surveyed, including primary care and family medicine doctors, as many as 42% said they thought that fears of vaccines causing autism contributed “a lot” to families’ desire to spread out vaccination schedules. Up to 63% of doctors said unspecified “long-term complications” contributed to reducing vaccine schedules.
For the study, researchers from Colorado, the state with the most unvaccinated children , surveyed more than 500 US physicians in 2012.
The vast majority of doctors (93%) said that in a typical month they receive requests to delay vaccinations from parents of children younger than two years old. And though 87% of doctors believed the parents were putting their children at risk for disease – and 84% said it would be more painful for children – they agreed to such requests.
Doctors said they wanted to build trust with families and had multiple strategies for dealing with such requests, but didn’t feel most were effective. The survey calls for better evidence-based ways to convince parents to vaccinate their children.
Many blame parents who forego or delay vaccines for the recent outbreaks, based on the erroneous belief that small children’s bodies are too delicate to handle the multiple vaccines recommended by doctors. Doctors recommend children get their first measles vaccine at about one year, and a booster between four and six years old.
As of 20 February, the Centers for Disease Control identified 154 cases in 17 states, stemming from three outbreaks, about 118 of which stemmed from Disneyland theme park in California. And in 2014, the CDC tracked a record-breaking 644 cases in 27 states.
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