Injecting Information about Childhood Vaccines into Prenatal Visits

Childhood vaccines
Even if you haven’t yet decided what color you want to paint the nursery, chances are you’ve already thought about whether you’re going to get your baby immunized on schedule.

You’re in good company. Despite the misinformation circulating about the safety of childhood vaccines (I’m talking to you, Jenny McCarthy and Oprah Winfrey), a new study of 200 women in the second trimester of their first pregnancy found that three-quarters of them planned to follow the recommended immunization schedule.

A number of studies have examined vaccine attitudes of parents of young children, but few have focused on new or expectant mothers.

“New parents have much to learn during pregnancy through the birth of an infant and in the early postpartum period,” the researchers write in what must be the understatement of the year. “This is particularly true in the health domain…”

The women in their study ranged in age from 19 to 44, and most were non-Hispanic and white. About 4 out of 10 of them graduated from college, and more than a third reported an annual income of $75,000 or more. About 10% of the women said they planned to have their children get all of the recommended vaccines, but they would delay some. Another 4% said their child would get some but not all of the vaccines, while the remainder said they hadn’t yet decided what they would do.

Not surprisingly, the women who said they planned to get their babies immunized on schedule were most likely to say they thought childhood vaccines were important for keeping children healthy. But even some of those who were most confident about the value of immunizations said they’d value a doctor for their children who would be flexible about which shots to give and when to give them.

When asked where they obtained information about childhood vaccines in the past month, the women were more likely to cite Internet search engines or their family than anything else.Even though physicians and midwives who care for pregnant women don’t typically vaccinate their patients’ babies,they could serve as a valuable resource for information about childhood immunizations, concluded the researchers, who were from the CDC, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the University of Georgia.

Childhood vaccinations are major public health success, nearly eradicating deaths in the United States from diseases that were once common. But there have been recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases linked to unvaccinated children.

As of mid-November, 189 people from 24 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles this year, and most of them hadn’t been vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.And 113 of those cases, or 60%, were linked to the outbreak that started in Disneyland earlier this year, according to the CDC (personally, I think mouse ears make a far better souvenir than measles).

The CDC never identified the source of that outbreak, but the agency theorizes that it started with a visitor who contracted measles overseas. CDC scientists found that the type of virus implicated in the Disneyland outbreak was identical to the type that caused a large measles outbreak last year in the Philippines. That virus type was also linked to some of the 23 US measles outbreaks in 2014, which sickened 667 people—the highest number of cases since 2000, when the disease was thought to be eliminated in the US.

Rita Rubin
An ob-gyn's daughter and the mother of two teenage daughters, Rita Rubin has covered medicine ever since earning a BSJ from Northwestern. Based in Washington, D.C., Rita has written for WebMD, JAMA, POZ, and NBCNews.com and previously worked for USA TODAY. She has won numerous awards for her stories and authored What If I Have a C-Section? Rita earned an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins and spent a year as a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. You can follow her on Twitter @RitaRubin.

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