If a wealth of vaccine information is readily available, why are there still so many under-immunized or unimmunized children? The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends a month-to-month vaccination schedule for all children 0-6 years old. The ACIP lays out clear guidelines for recommended time frames in which vaccination series should be given, as well as, the benefits, safety, risks and after care recommendations of each vaccine in order to optimize a child’s immunity protection. And, it is because of the introduction of vaccines, these detailed schedules and recommendations in the United States that vaccine-preventable disease levels are at or near record lows. However, under-immunized children still remain leaving open the potential for disease outbreaks.
I believe this is a classic case of a breakdown in knowledge translation. Parents are obviously either not aware of or fully informed about the wealth of information regarding vaccines available to them because parental fears and misconceptions about the safety and efficacy of vaccines still exist. Available information does not automatically equal knowledge uptake and absorption. Thus, it appears as though the parents of young children need a better delivery vehicle in order to expose them to this information.
For example, the hypothesis that the MMR live virus vaccine and vaccines containing mercury causes autism is a very well known debate in the pediatric health community. And, even though this issue has been well researched, refuted, and studies and results published in peer reviewed journals, there still remains strong parental support for this theory. To date, no causal link has been found that any childhood vaccination leads to autism, yet some parents still refuse to vaccinate their child(ren) citing this very reason.
Why? Well, one reason could very well be that some parents just choose to believe in urban legends and/or conspiracy theories over scientific fact. As I stated before, just because information is available does not mean that information will be absorbed and accepted. Or, it could be that most parents really don’t understand what they read and/or hear about this debate and their lack of true knowledge and understanding about autism and vaccines cultivates their fear, which in turn, dictates their behavior. So, there lies a gap between what parents know and believe because even with the wealth of information available to them, parents continue to choose not to have their children vaccinated based solely on either a lack of understanding or a lack of information.
I believe doctors are the answer. Doctors can bridge that gap between available information and knowledge uptake/absorption in concerned parents. Studies have shown that a doctor’s vaccine recommendation to a parent during their child’s office visit improves vaccination rates. I am convinced this is because doctors have the ability to serve a dual purpose: they are a reputable source of information to parents that can also address questions and concerns regarding vaccinations all in one office visit. Knowledge translation and absorption is paramount to keeping children vaccinated on schedule. Without parental uptake of knowledge regarding the benefits and safety of vaccines, fears and negative perceptions will persist and childhood vaccination rates will decline. I am a mother myself and I believe asking questions and getting answers is the responsibility of a good parent. But, I also believe parents need to take the steps necessary to make informed choices for their child’s health. Do not let fear and misconceptions trump the facts. Your child’s health and well being are at stake.