Vaccinations are designed to help provide children with protection from serious diseases that have been practically eradicated from the United States. But over the years, parents have voiced concerns about the safety of vaccinations, which has caused many to follow a delayed schedule or avoid the immunizations completely. This has health professionals concerned, especially now that a new study has found that more than half of U.S. children are receiving their vaccines late.
“What we’re worried about is if [undervaccination] becomes more and more common, is it possible this places children at an increased risk of vaccine-preventable diseases?” lead author on the study, Jason Glanz with Kaiser Permanente Colorado in Denver told Reuters Health. “Is it possible that some of these diseases that we worked so hard to eliminate [could] come back?”
Glanz’s concern is fueled by the data from a study that he and his colleagues conducted on approximately 323,000 children. Eight managed care organizations helped provide the information for this study, and they reported that the number of children who were late on at least one vaccination, including their MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccines rose from 42 percent to 54 percent.
What’s more, it would seem that this is a growing trend since babies that were born towards the end of the study were progressively later on their vaccines than the children born towards the beginning of the study.
“When that happens, it can create this critical mass of susceptible individuals,” Saad Omer, from the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Reuters Health.
So why the rise in undervaccinated children? Out of the children late in their vaccinations, one in eight were undervaccinated because of the parents’ conscious decision. Recent studies have indicated that many parents are asking to skip or delay certain immunizations because of safety concerns, particularly the concerns over a connection between immunizations and autism. However, scientists are now saying that this theory is inaccurate and that parents should be careful of where they get their information. Glanz said that the best place to get accurate information is from the child’s pediatrician.
“We don’t know if these ‘alternative schedules’ as they’re called are as safe, less safe or more safe than the current schedules,” Glanz said. “We don’t have any evidence that there are any safety concerns with the current recommended schedule, and right now, the best way to protect your child from infection is to get your child vaccinated on time.”
But not all parents voiced concerns over the safety of vaccines. For the remaining seven out of eight children, the reason behind the late vaccines is unknown. However, Glanz suggested that some of the children could have bounced in and out of insurance coverage or may have been sick during their well-check visits and had their vaccines postponed.
Another interesting piece of information about the undervaccinated children is the fact that they tended to have fewer doctor’s appointments and tended to visit the emergency room less. Omner suggests that this could be because parents that are opting to follow an alternative immunization schedule would also be more likely to turn to alternative or complementary treatments when available, rather than seek the help of a regular medical professional.
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