Written by By Cathy Rabinowitz, Demetra Kalogeropoulos, and Caitlin Brady, CNN
Before a tickbites a child’s arm, he or she is already exposed to about one hundred deadly diseases.
That’s according to a new survey of our KIDS Lab — a group of independent biomedical researchers focused on disseminating the latest research around childhood vaccines.
The KIDS Lab is funded by Stanford University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. During the past two years, the group’s researchers have released data on childhood vaccinations — a source of widespread controversy and debate.
“What we want to do is simply build the scientific record,” explains Mark Blaxill, a Stanford physician who was recently tapped to lead the group. “It really is a very important way of bringing data together about how vaccines are used.”
In addition to reviewing the scientific literature and interviewing nearly a dozen current and former U.S. federal health officials, the KIDS Lab has also regularly polled about 500 parents nationwide about their vaccination practices.
They found that more than half of U.S. children do not get their full recommended vaccines each year.
This has been a major concern for some quarters of the medical community since the early 1990s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of under-vaccinated children had risen from one in 45 in 1993 to one in six in 2014.
But in this survey, a whopping 88% of surveyed parents said they were not worried about their child not being fully vaccinated.
Many commentators in the press have assumed that parents’ decision to not vaccinate stems from personal beliefs, and that authorities have little control over those decisions.
Blaxill says the KIDS Lab could reveal what isn’t yet being reported.
“We’re the only study team that is quantifying the difference between how families say they practice their own practice and what’s actually happening,” he says.
In its recent “point of view” survey of parents, for example, the KIDS Lab found that “flu vaccines are often not given by the time the child reaches school age.” Meanwhile, 88% of parents say their children are getting flu shots.
Blaxill says that’s because parents “tend to wait until the last minute” before they vaccinate their children. That may be in part because parents are afraid the vaccine may not be effective against a flu strain they may have never heard of.
Researchers are still working to finalize the KIDS Lab’s next annual survey, but they’ve already learned a few things from the past two years. First, the data isn’t very reliable. About one-third of parents surveyed wrongly believe that tetanus and diphtheria vaccines are necessary for children who have had chicken pox.
It is true that the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) shot is required for certain children who have been exposed to pertussis. It’s also true that some adolescents and adults who’ve had chicken pox have had tetanus. That’s because chicken pox can cause tetanus.
The KIDS Lab also released new information about three of the most controversial vaccinations: measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and all human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, including the vaccines given for boys and girls. The KIDS Lab found that about one-third of parents are not getting the required doses of these vaccines.
Sharon Baldwin, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California at Davis, says the survey findings should give parents pause.
“These diseases that might have been eradicated with good vaccines that reduce risk have come back. It highlights the importance of our vigilance,” says Baldwin, who was not involved in the KIDS Lab survey.
There have been a few encouraging signs this year. A U.S. measles outbreak was contained last month, after cases broke out in California and across the country. Separately, a recent government study showed that the number of flu cases declined last week in New York City.
We are, however, still tracking the H1N1 outbreak, a so-called pandemic strain that hit during the previous flu season.
At the same time, many states are attempting to identify which children have missed out on their required flu shots because of failure to return their vaccine record forms. That could create a mismatch in their immunization records — and hence the possible spread of diseases.
According to the CDC, the majority of children up to four years old who get the influenza vaccine are between two and five years old.