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Improving Childhood Vaccination Rates

3 February 2012

Douglas S. Diekema, M.D., M.P.H.

Recently, the mother of a young child confessed to me that she didn’t know any parents who were following the recommended immunization schedule for their children. She said that when she told her pediatrician she’d like to follow an alternative schedule, the physician had simply acquiesced, leading her to assume that the recommended schedule had no advantage over the one she suggested.

Despite the phenomenal success of childhood vaccination, thousands of U.S. parents refuse selected vaccines or delay their administration. Some choose not to vaccinate their children at all. These parents are not a homogeneous group: some object to immunization on religious or philosophical grounds, some are avoiding an apparently painful assault on their child, and others believe that the benefits of at least some immunizations don’t justify the risks. Since parents today have little or no experience with vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio, Hemophilus influenzae type b, or measles, they can’t easily appreciate the benefits of vaccination or the risks of not vaccinating.

In 2010, California reported over 9000 cases of pertussis — more than the state had seen since 1947. Of these, 89% occurred among infants younger than 6 months, a group too young to be adequately immunized and largely dependent on herd immunity for protection from infection. Ten of these infants died from their infection.

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