What Are Parents (More) Afraid Of?
Jun 28, 2011

I don’t want to oversimplify the vaccine debate, but lately I’ve seen it come down to numbers.  What are parents more afraid of?  The diseases that the vaccines are meant to prevent, or the risk of injury from the vaccine?
The information parents receive when vaccinating their child provides details regarding the probability of injury unique to each specific vaccine.  The numbers clearly illustrate – for each and every vaccine on the schedule – that the disease has a greater potential for harm than the vaccine.   Quite frankly ,if they didn’t, the vaccine wouldn’t be approved for use. It’s just that simple.
While that may seem like a rational way to measure the pros vs. cons of vaccines, some parents still come to the conclusion that it is not worth vaccinating their children for fear of a vaccine injury.
Now, allow me to elaborate just a bit.
The number of people who come to that conclusion remains fairly small.  Recent reports from the CDC show that coverage rates for most recommended vaccines among children entering kindergarten were ≥90% nationwide.  That means that about 10% may not have received every recommended vaccine and there may be a variety of reasons why that may be so.  However, this same report states that less than 1% are not immunized at all.
While those that refrain from vaccines seem so few, the concern occurs when there are clusters of unvaccinated people, which then allows for diseases to be transmitted more easily.  Typically, a vaccination rate of less than 90% is believed to impact herd immunity and increase the frequency of outbreaks.   As an example, last week’s Chicago Tribune article explains that while state-wide vaccination rates in Illinois are at 98%, some school rates for certain diseases fell below 60%.  In fact, the Tribune found that “the number of schools below 90% for measles, mumps, polio, rubella or the DTP vaccination more than doubled between 2003 and 2010, from 83 to 198”.
Another interesting statistic revealed in Health Affairs recently reported that about 77% of parents had at least one concern about immunizing their children.
One may think that these fears are keeping parents from vaccinating, but that is simply not the case. The report illustrates that some parents continue to vaccinate despite their concerns.
Wait….what?  Why would they do that?  Why would parents vaccinate their children if they are concerned about vaccines? 
Well, it comes down to the types of fears parents have and their willingness to put aside those fears based on the multitude of scientific evidence that supports vaccines.  For instance, the survey concluded that many parents were concerned about the needle and pain of the shot (38%), some worry about fever as a side effect of the vaccine(32%), and some are still confused about the (unproven) suggestion that vaccines may cause learning disabilities such as autism (30%).
Clearly, not all fears result in a parent refusing to vaccinate their child.  Many of these concerns have more to do with a parent’s empathy for their child than for their concern about vaccine safety. It’s only natural for parents to worry about their children.  For instance, I often worry that my children might get abducted, get hit by a car, or be victims of violence.  However, statistics show that these “fears” are highly improbable.  While that doesn’t mean they can’t– or won’t – happen, I am able to rationalize my fear by understanding the risks.
In the case of vaccines, the majority of parents do the same, but some end up down the wrong road.

And why is that?

Well as soon as they do a Google search on vaccines, a multitude of anti-vaccine sites pop up. Before they know it, they’re captivated by the personal accounts of injury and the concerns about vaccine ingredients like thimerosal/mercury and aluminum.  It all sounds very scary, I’ll admit.  Yet, these sites fail to inform parents that there are absolutely no studies that prove a vaccine-autism link.  Of course, they also fail to explain vaccine ingredients from a scientific perspective – why these ingredients are present, in which vaccines and at what dose.  Certainly they don’t discuss the studies that have been done to demonstrate the safety and benefit of vaccines.  Instead, parents succumb to the fear of scary side effects in endless stories from parents who talk about their normally developing child who immediately stopped talking, started screaming or began seizing as a result of a vaccine injury.
With all due respect to those that have been truly injured by vaccines, the point is, parents can’t “hear” the pro-vaccine side in the same way that they hear the anti-vaccine arguments.  There are no stories to tell of the children who have been saved by vaccines.  All we can do is refer to an impressive statistic of 42,000 lives spared and 20 million cases of diseases thwarted for each birth year cohort.  Or we can also highlight the numbers by explaining the $68.9 billion dollar cost savings to the public through the use of vaccines. (This preliminary data was presented at the 2011 National Immunization Conference by Fangjun Zhou, of the Immunization Services Division of the CDC.)
Sadly, while these numbers are very impressive, they don’t typically tug at one’s heartstrings. Instead, vaccine advocates are left telling the unfortunate stories of children who have needlessly suffered and died as a result of vaccine preventable diseases and a breakdown of herd immunity.
Even when parents attempt to find credible information about vaccines, they are often high jacked. For instance, if a parent where to search for “Every Child By Two” they may find their official website (at http://ecbt.org/), or they may innocently click on a similar URL (www.everychildbytwo.org/) which was purchased by Age of Autism to redirect people to a puppet site they created for the sole purpose of discrediting vaccine advocates.  (Which speaks volumes about the morals and credibility of their organization, don’t ya think? )
Interestingly enough, during a recent meeting of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, several members of the Safety Subcommittee – representing anti-vaccination organizations such as the National Vaccine Information Center and Safe Minds – cited parental fears as an indication that parents are not convinced of vaccine safety.

In calling for additional studies, you have to wonder…

Perhaps the fears we are hearing from parents are a direct result of the efforts of these anti-vaccine organizations.  Perhaps if they stopped declaring that vaccines cause more death and injury than they prevent – a suggestion that just doesn’t hold up when you evaluate the true statistics – there may be a little less fear out there.  Perhaps they are responsible for the fear being measured in these  studies and by perpetuating fear, they then use that fear to suggest that parents are not convinced of vaccine safety.  Ultimately, they then call for additional (costly) studies that are then also discredited by these same organizations.
It might actually be funny if it wasn’t so dangerous.  As these particular committee members stay busy chasing their tails, others are frustrated that valuable time and money is being diverted from other immunization issues that deserver our attention.
Yes, it’s true.  Parents have concerns about vaccines.  Some may even be concerned about vaccine safety. However, the presence of fear doesn’t mean that they are not vaccinating. Rather, it means that we must do a better job in helping them to obtain credible information so that they can feel better about making rational decisions based on scientific evidence.
Each day we work hard to publicize credible sources that address parental fears and inform the public about the safety and efficacy of vaccines.  We are inspired that more and more parents are standing up for vaccines.  These vocal advocates, like the many visitors to our Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page, feel the need to combat vaccine misinformation and clarify the science.  We want parents to feel confident in their decision to vaccinate, so please feel free to make suggestions in the comments below about topics you would like for us to explore in upcoming posts.  Or feel free to r send us an email suggestion at  shotofprevenation@gmail.com.  We want to hear from you.


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NOTE: A version of this content originally appeared in Vaccinate Your Family’s Immunization Alerts eNewsletter, sent out on Friday, August 13, 2021. Stay up to date on the latest vaccine news by subscribing here....

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