TUESDAY, April 19, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- About 93 percent of parents said their children either had or were going to get all of the recommended vaccinations, and more than three-fourths said they trusted their doctor's advice on immunizations, two new surveys find.
Pediatricians and infectious disease experts say this is good news. After years of hype about a supposed autism/MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) link -- a claim that has been roundly discredited -- it seems parents are heeding the advice of medical experts and protecting their children from potentially devastating diseases.
"It's reassuring that so many parents place a lot of trust in their child's physician, more so than any other source," said study author Dr. Gary Freed, director of the child health evaluation and research unit at University of Michigan.
Yet, there is still cause for concern. About 24 percent of parents surveyed said they place some trust in what celebrities say about vaccines.
One prominent vaccine skeptic is Jenny McCarthy, the American model and actress whose son has autism. McCarthy continues to promote the autism/MMR theory, despite the British Medical Journal retraction of the study that linked the two, according to news reports.
"Celebrities have no expertise in childhood immunizations or infectious disease," Freed said. "There is a danger in the media of putting up celebrities as experts on any topic for which they have an opinion, and giving them a platform to share their opinions that is presented as equal to true experts."
In the first survey, published in the May issue of Pediatrics, researchers used data from a 2009 nationally representative sample of about 1,550 parents of children aged 17 and younger.
About 76 percent of parents said they trusted their child's doctor "a lot," 22 percent said they had "some" trust, while only 2 percent said they didn't trust the doctor.
Parents also trusted other health-care providers and government vaccine experts, but not as much as doctors.
Two percent of parents said they trusted celebrities "a lot," 24 percent said they trusted celebrities somewhat for vaccine information, and 74 percent said they trusted celebrities "not at all." Women and Hispanics were more likely to trust celebrities.
A second survey by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in the same journal used 2009 survey data from parents of children under the age of 6.
Nearly 75 percent of parents reported their youngest child had received all of the recommended vaccines; another 19 percent said their child would receive the vaccines.
About 79 percent of parents were either confident or very confident in vaccine safety, and about 80 percent said they thought vaccines were important for a child's health.
But parents still have their concerns. About 22 percent somewhat or strongly agreed that they were concerned about "too many vaccines potentially damaging a child's immune system," according to the study.
When asked how many shots parents were comfortable with their child receiving in a single doctor's visit, 42 percent said one to two; 34 percent said three to four; and 23 percent said "whatever the doctor recommends."
The authors suggest that pediatricians listen to parents' concerns and direct them to appropriate resources for information.
"It's encouraging that in this survey the overwhelming majority said they will get all of their immunizations. That's a wonderful thing," said Dr. David Kimberlin, a professor of pediatrics at University of Alabama at Birmingham and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases. "The noise out there that seems to question vaccine safety is increasingly being discounted and being discounted in a very public way."
Even so, Kimberlin said parents still bring up concerns about vaccine safety.
Even if the thought of your little one getting poked multiple times in one appointment makes you feel a bit uneasy, it's important to follow the recommended vaccine schedule, Freed said.
"The schedule is designed to protect infants from diseases at the times they are at highest risk," Freed said. "If you delay vaccines, you delay protecting your child and put them at risk for life-threatening diseases."
The pertussis, or whooping cough, vaccine is typically given at 2, 4, 6 and 12 months, and then a booster at 4 years. There's a reason for the timing, Freed said.
In adults, whooping cough can cause a barking cough that lasts for weeks, but it's treatable with antibiotics and rarely life-threatening. But in infants, whooping cough can be deadly.
Several babies died in California last year during the worst pertussis outbreak in 50 years. Those most at risk were babies too young to be immunized.
Minnesota and Salt Lake City are experiencing a measles outbreak. Measles can cause pneumonia, brain swelling and even death.
"You don't have look any farther than the biggest pertussis outbreak in California in 50 years and the measles outbreak in Minnesota to see what it looks like when we let our guard down," Kimberlin said.
Check out the recommended vaccine schedule for kids and adults at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.