Refusing to Vaccinate Affects Other Kids, Too
Study: Vaccine Refusal Fueled San Diego Measles Outbreak
Many Parents Question Vaccine Safety
Part of the CDC and San Diego County investigation involved outreach to
parents in the affected community who believe vaccines pose a greater risk to
children than the diseases they prevent.
These parents told the researchers that they were skeptical of vaccine
safety and efficacy claims by the government, the pharmaceutical industry, and
the medical community. They felt there was a very low risk of getting a
vaccine-preventable disease, and that such diseases were better prevented by
"natural lifestyles" including prolonged breastfeeding and organic
foods. Most felt vaccines could damage a child's immune system and cause
neurologic complications such as autism.
"I really don't think many of them changed their minds," study investigator
and CDC researcher Albert E. Barskey, MPH, tells WebMD. "They were pretty set
in their ways. In fact, when given the choice of vaccinating their children
after exposure so they could go back to school, most chose instead to keep them
quarantined at home for three weeks."
Even so, when faced with the fact that their children had been exposed to
measles, about 40% of the parents did chose vaccination over quarantine.
Vaccine Debate Rages On
Despite the extraordinary efforts of health workers, what really ended the
San Diego outbreak wasn't quarantine or post-exposure vaccination. It was the
high vaccination rate in the rest of the community that kept the outbreak from
becoming an epidemic.
Christopher Harrison, MD, director of the infectious diseases research
laboratory at Children's Mercy Hospitals & Clinic in Kansas City,
Mo., says parents who don't vaccinate may think they are avoiding making a
decision that could harm their child.
"They think that if they do nothing it is not their fault; that if they give
their child a vaccine and something seems to go wrong, they are going to feel
guilt," Harrison tells WebMD. "But not making a decision is really making a
decision, and that decision is to leave your child unprotected. By not
vaccinating, you have really put your child at risk."
Tamara R. Kuittenen, MD, director of medical education at New York's Lenox
Hill Hospital, says she often encounters parents' "real fear" that the MMR
vaccine somehow causes autism.
"I am a mother of three, age 3 and under, and I see all these mothers
blogging about MMR vaccine refusal," she tells WebMD. "This is a story that
needs to be told: Measles is still a threat and the vaccine is very effective.
Not vaccinating your children puts them at risk of a lot of complications."
The CDC/San Diego Health Department study appears in the April issue of