A new poll of over 2,000 American parents has revealed that many think that parents of unvaccinated children should be asked to find a new provider and a considerable number would look to change providers if they found out that their child's doctor sees families who refuse all childhood vaccines.
The survey, called the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan found that 41% of parents were very or somewhat likely to move their child to a different provider if they found out their doctor saw children whose parents refused all childhood vaccines.
Despite considerable evidence that vaccines are safe, effective and have no links to autism, anti-vaccine sentiment continues to grow in many parts of the world. Over 1,200 people have died in a measles epidemic in Madagascar so far and today, the U.K. lost its 'measles free' status, with 231 confirmed cases in the first quarter of the year. The U.S. may be next to follow suit.
"Pediatricians strive to keep children healthy through regular well-child care and this includes encouraging families to follow recommended vaccine schedules. When a family refuses all childhood vaccines, it puts providers in a challenging position," says Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark, MPH.
Most American children receive recommended vaccines protecting them from dangerous illnesses like measles and whooping cough. Doctors sometimes do care for children whose parents refuse to vaccinate them, but 3 in 10 parents said that doctors should ask these parents to leave the practice and find another provider.
"A completely unvaccinated child is unprotected against harmful and contagious diseases, such as measles, pertussis and chicken pox. Children who skip vaccines also pose a risk of transmitting diseases to other patients. This can be especially risky exposure for vulnerable populations, including infants too young to receive vaccines, elderly patients, patients with weakened immune systems or pregnant women," said Clark.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization announced that there have been more cases of the virus in the first six months of 2019 than in any other year, since 2006.
Thirty-nine percent of parents surveyed said that their provider already has a policy saying children must get all recommended vaccines, with a further 8% saying their provider has a requirement that children get some vaccines. Another 15% say that their child's primary care provider has no vaccination policy and 38% percent say they aren't sure if there is a policy at all.
The poll also found that many parents are not aware of any policies that their primary care provider has to deal with unvaccinated children.
Only 6% of parents say their child's primary care office does not allow unvaccinated children to use the same waiting area as other patients, while 2% say the office allows unvaccinated children to use the waiting area if they wear a mask. Twenty-four percent of parents say their child's primary care office allows unvaccinated children to use the same waiting area as other patients with no restrictions.
The poll also collected information about whether parents thought they should know if unvaccinated children were present in the waiting room, with 43% of parents who would want to know and 33% would not want to know.
"Providers usually do their best to address any concerns parents may have related to hesitancy about vaccines. In addition to explaining how vaccines protect the health of the child, providers also may share information about why an unvaccinated child exposes other children and patients to dangerous health risks too," said Clark.
The majority of U.S. children receive all vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but several serious outbreaks have occurred with at least one case of measles documented in 30 states in the first half of 2019, with active outbreaks ongoing in California, Texas, Washington and three locations in New York state.
Clark suggests that these recent measles outbreaks highlight the need for both parents and health care providers to consider policies around unvaccinated children. The highly contagious measles virus can live for several hours in an area where an infected person coughed or sneezed. However, people can spread the disease even before symptoms appear. When parents bring a child with suspected measles to the waiting room of a doctor's office or emergency room, Clark says, they may expose many other patients to the disease.
"Parents may assume that when they take their child to the doctor, they are in a setting that will not expose their child to diseases. Parents may not have considered that there could another child in the waiting room whose parents have refused all vaccines. When prompted to think about it, most parents want the doctor's office to have some policy to limit the risk from unvaccinated children," said Clark.
Parents with young infants or children with conditions that affect their immunity, which include cancer and autoimmune diseases are already having to be hypervigilant in public places to protect their children from these infectious diseases which could seriously harm, or worse, kill their children. But the new survey suggests that primary care providers are not always providing adequate information about their policies on unvaccinated children.
"Primary care providers need to think carefully about whether to institute policies to prevent their patients from being exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases, and then communicate those policies to all patients in their practice," said Clark.
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