School nurses, beware. Across the country, more and more parents are asking their pediatricians to either delay or exempt their kids from vaccines. In eight states, the AP reports, more than 1 in 20 kindergarten students aren’t getting the vaccines that are recommended before enrolling in school. In Washington State, 80% of pediatricians report being asked to delay their kids’ vaccine schedules. But parents aren’t doing it out of malice–they’re doing it out of skepticism about the safety. And if health organizations want that to change, they need to provide a lot more information to parents.
The growing number of parents who are looking to modify or entirely skip scheduled vaccines shows a widening disconnect between public health officials (like the CDC) and parents. Those who work to control the spread of disease through vaccines – such as doctors, school nurses, and researchers – are getting concerned about the potential for outbreaks of disease which, in the past, have widely been vaccinated for–like the flu, mumps, and rubella–while parents remain unsure or suspicious of the claims that vaccines are OK for toddlers and elementary school students.
The message that vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary–which is widely accepted in scientific and medical circles–doesn’t seem to be getting communicated to parents. Instead, health blogs, films, and parenting websites, which teach suspicion toward the vaccines, are having the biggest impact.
But it’s not just those who are staunchly opposed to vaccines that are seeking exemption from the recommendations that public schools put in place. Plenty of parents who might otherwise be in favor of protecting their kids feel that vaccines haven’t been proven safe or effective enough to administer, or they simply think that vaccines aren’t necessary or worth any potential risks. Which demonstrates a pretty sizable misstep by public health officials and bodies: they haven’t done nearly enough to quell the fears of parents, and are being shouted down by vocal opponents.
If the CDC and other public health organizations truly want to encourage parents to vaccinate their kids, they’re going to need a serious PR boost to send the message, loud and clear, that vaccines are safe and effective. Simply repeating that vaccines are safe without offering new information isn’t working–they’ll need new science, more studies, and more concrete numbers if they want to convince skeptical parents that getting their kids vaccinated as recommended is the right thing to do. Otherwise, fear of unreported side effects or under-developed research may continue to keep kids away from the needle–but not out of the classroom.
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