More than 1 out of 10 parents of young children in the United States follow an “alternative vaccination schedule” rather than the officially recommended one, according to a new study from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, which also suggests more parents are likely to follow. You can read about the study in a paper published online in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.

Every year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publish recommended schedules and guidelines for when children and adolescents should receive their vaccine or series of shots against communicable diseases such as: chickenpox (varicella vaccine); measles, mumps rubella (MMR); diptheria, tetanus and pertussis or whooping cough (DTaP); Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib); Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B (Hep A, Hep B); seasonal influenza; polio (IPV); pneuococcal disease (PCV); and rotavirus (RV).

There are two schedules: one covers birth to 6 years and the other covers from age 7 to 18 years. There is also a “catch-up schedule” to help those who need to get back on track.

Dr Amanda Dempsey, assistant professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues, write that in the US, more and more parents appear to be departing from the CDC’s vaccination schedule. So they decided to see how widespread this was nationwide and also investigate the extent to which those that are currently following the recommended schedule might deviate from it in the future.

To do this they carried out an internet-based survey that took a single “snapshot” of a nationally representative sample of parents of children aged from 6 months to 6 years. Using statistical tools, they then looked at links between various demographic characteristics of the respondents, factors that might influence their decisions, and their use of an alternative vaccination schedule.

748 parents took part (response rate of 61%) in the survey. The results showed that:

  • Of those who followed an alternative schedule, just over half (53%) refused only certain vaccines, and/or delayed them until their child was older (55%); while 17% reported refusing all vaccines.
  • Non-black parents, and those whose child did not have a regular health care provider, were the only factors to be significantly linked to following an alternative schedule.
  • 28% of the parents who were following the recommended schedule thought that delaying vaccine doses was safer than the schedule they were following.
  • And 28% disagreed that the recommended schedule was the best one.

The researchers conclude that:

“More than 1 of 10 parents of young children currently use an alternative vaccination schedule.”

“In addition, a large proportion of parents currently following the recommended schedule seem to be ‘at risk’ for switching to an alternative schedule” they add.

These results did not come as a surprise to Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, a watchdog group that aims to inform the public about vaccines and promotes the informed consent ethic in medicine.

Fisher told WebMD parents are becoming better informed and educated: they are doing their research before deciding whether and when their children should be vaccinated.

We should be encouraging doctors to listen to parents’ concerns when they describe vaccine reactions, instead of pushing for strategies to reduce those concerns, as the researchers recommend in their paper, she urged.

Written by Catharine Paddock