Some parents choose alternative vaccination schedules

About 1 in 10 with children 6 months to 6 years does not follow the CDC's recommendations.

By Christine S. Moyer — Posted Oct. 14, 2011

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Educating vaccine-hesitant parents about the importance of childhood immunizations could prevent them from delaying or skipping recommended vaccines, say the authors of a study.

About one in 10 parents with children age 6 months to 6 years uses an alternative vaccination schedule, according to a study published online Oct. 3 in Pediatrics. In alternative schedules, vaccines often are administered to children at later ages than recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study also shows that nearly one in four parents who adheres to the CDC's vaccine guidelines does not think it is the best plan to follow.

"This points to a potential tipping point where we might be able to catch people before they fall off the recommended [vaccine] track," said lead study author Amanda F. Dempsey, MD, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases at the University of Michigan Health System. "The recommended vaccine schedule has been tested. We know about the immune system response with that schedule and the safety and efficacy of vaccines. We don't know anything about those outcomes for alternative schedules."

The study comes at a time when outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles and pertussis, increasingly are being reported across the country. Infectious diseases experts say the uptick in these illnesses is due in part to children who are unvaccinated and undervaccinated.

Researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 771 parents in May 2010 who had at least one child 6 months to 6 years. Respondents were asked if their child received all of the recommended vaccines at the ages suggested by the CDC.

Parents who said they follow an alternative schedule were asked which vaccines they delayed and which they skipped altogether. Researchers found that 17% of parents who reported using an alternative vaccine plan refuse all immunizations. The figure was 2% for participants overall (link).

The seasonal influenza vaccine was among the most commonly refused immunizations among parents using alternative schedules, with 76% turning it down. The vaccine followed only the 2009 influenza A(H1N1) immunization, which 86% of parents refused. The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was the injection most often delayed by parents.

Dr. Dempsey was concerned that three in 10 parents who use an alternative schedule said they initially followed the CDC's vaccine recommendations. A majority said they changed to an alternative immunization plan because it seemed safer.

"This really points to the need [for doctors] to find people who are hesitant to vaccinate their children," but haven't started using an alternative schedule, Dr. Dempsey said. "We haven't found any easy solutions to try to stop this, but I hope our research sheds light on starting points for educational interventions."

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