Why physicians need to talk to new parents about immunizations


While most physicians understand the value of immunizations and advocate for their use, a number of Americans refuse to inoculate their children out of personal or religious beliefs.

American parents have the right to refuse to vaccinate their children - although the majority of school districts require students to be immunized - and those parents who distrust vaccinations may put other children at risk of serious diseases.

In fact, when a measles outbreak occurred in 2015, low rates of immunization were the likely cause, according to a study conducted by researchers from Harvard Medical School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston Children's Hospital.

Highly infectious diseases such as measles can swiftly travel through communities with lower than 96 percent vaccination rates, reported the study's authors. And yet, several communities studied had vaccination rates between 86 and 50 percent, potentially creating hotbeds for diseases that have been all but eradicated in the U.S.

The danger to children makes it imperative for physicians to talk to new parents about vaccinations and address their fears on the subject.

Roughly 9 percent of Americans believe the measles vaccination is not safe for children.Roughly 9 percent of Americans believe the measles vaccination is not safe for children.

Common misconceptions about immunization

The Pew Research Center conducted a study which found that while 83 percent of Americans believe the measles vaccination is safe, 9 percent believe it is unsafe and the remaining 7 percent are not sure.

The World Health Organization has compiled a list of the six most common misconceptions about vaccinations:

  1. Hygiene and sanitation are enough to prevent infectious diseases from spreading.
  2. Most people who get diseases were already inoculated.
  3. Some vaccination batches are tainted.
  4. Vaccinations lead to autism and other harmful side-effects, including death.
  5. Citizens of countries that have eliminated certain diseases don't have to get inoculated against them.
  6. Multiple vaccinations can overload a child's immune system.

It could be a good exercise for doctors to study these misconceptions and formulate easy-to-understand counter arguments.

How doctors can educate patients

According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, more doctors are dismissing from their practice parents who continue to refuse vaccinations for their children. The study showed that 11.7 percent of doctors always dismissed patients for refusing inoculations in 2013, up from 6.1 percent in 2006. The study also showed that pediatricians believe the number of parents who refuse immunization is on the rise.

To prevent future harm to children, doctors may need to take a firmer stand with parents who may misunderstand the safety and importance of vaccination. Meeting each refusal head on with facts and historical documentation may help these parents fully grasp the gravity of the situation.

We are fortunate enough to live during a time in which many highly infectious diseases like measles are kept under control - so it's understandable that some parents feel that vaccinations are unnecessary. They haven't seen first-hand the ravages these diseases can cause. But it wasn't so long ago that American parents had to live in constant fear that their children would be maimed or even fatally affected by diseases like mumps, polio or pertussis.

Opponents of childhood vaccinations are loud, especially on the internet. It's up to physicians to fight against such misconceptions with scientific reasoning and a caring demeanor.

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