While the importance of vaccines has long been stressed by the medical community, a new study published on Monday has revealed that an increasing number of parents are refusing the shots.
The study, which was published by American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), surveyed over 600 doctors and found that 87 per cent of pediatricians in 2013 said they had dealt with parents who refused a vaccine. This is a significant jump from 2006, when that number was only 75 per cent.
AAP reports that many parents are also delaying vaccinations out of fear of causing their child discomfort or bombarding their immune system. In 2013, about 19 per cent of pediatricians reported parents delaying at least one vaccine.
So what’s causing the anti-vax movement to rise so quickly? Parents are simply deeming vaccines unnecessary, the study says.
Explaining this phenomenon, study co-author Dr. Kathryn Edwards said: “People today may not remember that before vaccines, diseases like whooping cough, measles, polio, meningitis and diphtheria sickened and claimed the lives of thousands of children and adults each year in the United States.”
As a result, doctors are warning parents that the anti-vax movement can lead to future epidemics. “Serious disease can occur if your child and family are not vaccinated,” Edwards stressed.
Dr. Gerald Evans, a medicine professor at Queen’s University, agrees. Back in 2014, during the measles outbreak in Canada, Evans explained to Global News: “When people say some of this might be related to low vaccine rates among people, that’s a huge understatement.”
“It’s all because of vaccination rates falling,” he continued. “It’s 100 per cent blamed on the fact that people aren’t getting vaccinated.”
Speaking about these outbreaks, lead study author Dr. Geoffrey Simon said: “It’s clear that states with more lenient exemptions policies have lower immunization rates, and it’s these states where we have seen disease outbreaks occur as the rates slip below the threshold needed to maintain community immunity.”
"Communities benefit from high immunization rates, and as such, easing vaccine hesitancy is not just the job of a pediatrician, but of the entire community."
But parents aren’t the only ones to blame for low vaccination rates. According to AAP, it is also a result of doctors dismissing their anti-vax patients. In the survey, 12 per cent of doctors in 2013 admitted to terminating patients who refused to vaccinate their kids. This number is up from just six per cent in 2006.
So what are the next steps? More education.
AAP reported that 32 per cent of patients who originally turned down vaccines changed their minds after increasing their knowledge.
“This illustrates the importance of initiating conversations about vaccines with an understanding of the reasons for parents' concerns ... to best devise effective strategies to promote vaccinations in the refusing and delaying patient,” the study’s authors wrote.
Not only that, but some believe putting the onus on the community to get children vaccinated, rather than just parents and doctors, can also help.
Director Karen Ernst, of Voices for Vaccines, told Forbes: “Communities benefit from high immunization rates, and as such, easing vaccine hesitancy is not just the job of a pediatrician, but of the entire community. School administrators, vaccinating parents, public health agencies, lawmakers and pediatricians need to elevate immunization as an important and shared community value.”