AURORA, Colo. – Vaccines are a proven method to mitigate the spread of life-threatening contagious diseases. Despite this, a significant proportion of people around the world still believe that vaccinations may do more harm than good. Indeed, vaccine hesitancy is becoming so commonplace that the World Health Organization announced last year that the behavior has grown into one of the greatest modern threats to global health. Now, a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine sheds further light on the prevalence of “anti-vaxxer” sentiment among parents.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that a significant number of parents continue to hesitate vaccinating their children, especially for influenza.

Strong feelings against the flu shot

Researchers surveyed 2,176 parents and asked them how strongly they agree or disagree with statements related to the safety and effectiveness of routine childhood shots, along with the flu vaccine. They found that nearly 40% either “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” that they’re concerned about serious side effects of standard immunizations and the flu shot.

In regard to the effectiveness of vaccines, 70% of parents “strongly agree” that routine childhood vaccinations are effective. Despite this, just 26% “strongly agree” when only asked about the flu vaccine.

Consistent with the above findings, the researchers say that vaccine hesitancy among parents differs depending on the type of immunization. Second thoughts about routine childhood vaccinations are driven primarily by safety concerns, researchers say. Conversely, hesitancy about influenza vaccinations is driven primarily by low perceived effectiveness.

The study also shows that a parent’s education and household income are linked to feelings about vaccines. People with an education level less than a bachelor’s degree and income less than 400% of the federal poverty level were more likely to be hesitant about both routine childhood vaccines and the flu shot.

Challenges, risks from vaccine hesitancy

While it’s true that flu shots are not 100% effective, vaccines do lessen the severity and spread of the disease. Moreover, while some side effects are possible, many claims linking vaccines to serious health effects (such as autism) have been repeatedly debunked.

As lead author Dr. Allison Kempe explains, mixed feelings about influenza vaccines for children can have serious consequences. “We have already seen outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and mumps. Low vaccination rates among children for influenza vaccine makes influenza seasons more severe for all portions of the population, since children are a major conduit of the disease to vulnerable parts of the population such as the elderly,” she says in a statement.

Overcoming vaccine hesitancy is a major challenge in the United states and abroad, but it is not impossible. The researchers suggest several measures that may help to prevent and address such issues. These include: strong recommendations from trusted doctors, easier vaccine accessibility (for example, vaccination clinics or school-based immunizations), requirements for preschool and school vaccinations, and minimization of philosophical exemptions from vaccination requirements.

The researchers further suggest that educating parents about vaccines and dispelling myths are keys to tackling mixed feelings. “Ideally, we’d like to immunize parents against all the misinformation that is out there,” Kempe says.

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About Brianna Sleezer

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