(Reuters Health) - Pediatricians are increasingly encountering parents who don’t want their children immunized against infectious diseases, and a leading medical organization wants to help them address parents’ fears and questions about vaccines.
The American Academy of Pediatrics found in a 2006 survey of its members that about three quarters had encountered parents who refused to have their children vaccinated. That proportion grew to nearly 90 percent of doctors in 2013.
Parents’ attitudes toward vaccines are changing over time, said Dr. Kathryn Edwards, lead author of an AAP statement published Monday in Pediatrics.
Vaccines are often a victim of their own success since they - as intended - prevent diseases from sickening people, Edwards told Reuters Health.
Roughly three quarters of doctors reported that parents delay vaccines due to concerns about discomfort and almost the same proportion say parents delay vaccines over fears about burdening the immune system.
“Parental concerns must be addressed, and concerns will vary among parents,” the AAP says in its statement.
Some parents worry that the vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV) is unsafe and increases sexual activity, the statement says.
“Reassuring parents that the vaccine is safe and that there is no evidence that the HPV vaccine increases sexual activity may dispel their concerns,” it says.
About 94 percent of pediatricians surveyed in 2013 said they had tried to educate parents who refuse vaccines. About a third said education changed parents’ minds.
“I think parents who have concerns about vaccines should continue to discuss them with their pediatricians,” said Dr. Catherine Hough-Telford, who led the survey of the AAP members.
“Parents need to remember both they and the pediatrician want the best for the children and that continuing to discuss vaccines is important to address parental concerns,” said Hough-Telford, who is also affiliated with the University of Alabama in Birmingham.
The proportion of pediatricians who dismissed from their practice parents who refuse to vaccinate rose from about 6 percent in 2006 to about 12 percent in 2013.
Pediatricians who turn away parents who refuse vaccinations need to make sure the children can still receive care and won’t be turned away in illness, said Edwards, who is a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
In a separate statement, the AAP says routine childhood vaccinations are integral to the public health infrastructure in the U.S. Most states allow children to be exempt from school-required immunizations; while the AAP supports medical exemptions, it views non-medical exemptions as inappropriate for individual health, public health and ethical reasons.
Edwards said required immunizations are important, because vaccinating the vast majority of children also protects those who for some reason are not protected by the shots.
“As the measles outbreak showed in California, when you have large numbers of unvaccinated children, they also put those who are vaccinated at risk,” she said.
Even vaccinated are at greater risk for the disease if they live among unvaccinated children, “because the vaccines are not 100 percent effective,” she said.