Physicians the most trusted source of child vaccine information

But 24% of parents place some faith in what celebrities say about immunization safety.

By Christine S. Moyer — Posted April 18, 2011

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Although most parents believe the vaccine information they receive from their children's doctors, nearly one in four has some trust in what celebrities say about immunization safety, a study in Pediatrics shows.

To prevent misinformation, physicians should educate parents about the most credible vaccine sources, the study's lead author said. Such sources include doctors, government immunization experts and public health officials.

"Physicians have to help parents understand that not all sources of information are the same, and that [doctors are] providing information based on scientific studies and based on what's good for their children," said Gary L. Freed, MD, MPH, lead study author and chief of the Division of General Pediatrics at the University of Michigan. "Celebrities ... are usually not experts in pediatrics, immunizations or vaccine science."

Actress Jenny McCarthy is among the celebrities who have fueled public concern about the safety of childhood vaccines. She believes that immunizations are linked to her son's development of autism. Many studies, however, have rejected any association between autism and vaccines.

For the Pediatrics study, published online April 18, University of Michigan researchers surveyed 1,552 parents on their trust of various sources of vaccine information. The online survey was conducted in January 2009 among parents with children 17 and younger. The survey asked respondents to rate their degree of belief in sources as "a lot," "some" or "not at all."

Researchers found that 76% had a lot of trust in their child's doctor. Twenty-four percent had some confidence in celebrities' comments on vaccine safety. And 16% did not believe information from government vaccine experts or officials.

Researchers also found that trust varied by gender, race and ethnicity. Sixty-seven percent of women reported some confidence in vaccine safety information from parents who said their child was injured by an immunization. The figure was 61% for men.

To improve the dissemination of evidence-based vaccine messages, Dr. Freed recommends that physicians participate in public service announcements on the importance of childhood immunizations. He also suggests that public health officials use social networking sites to publicize important vaccine information.

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