“View” Co-Host Appointment Brings Media Flurry to Back to School Vaccines

Jul 19, 2013, 10:30 AM

The decision by the ABC Network to hire former model and MTV celebrity Jenny McCarthy to be a host on “The View,” a weekday talk show aimed at women, had vaccines in the news this week. It remains to be seen whether the increased attention will have an impact on the number of kids getting their shots, and getting them on time this year. In her book and in a myriad of interviews, McCarthy has linked her son’s diagnosis of autism with the Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccines he received as a baby. In a 2008 USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, a quarter of people surveyed said they were familiar with McCarthy’s views and of those respondents, 40 percent said her views would make them more likely to question the safety of vaccines.

As parents start setting up back to school visits, including many immunizations, for kids, Kristine Sheedy, PhD, associate director of communication science at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, answered questions for NewPublicHealth about the impact of parents skipping or delaying childhood vaccines.

NewPublicHealth: What are the most common vaccines parents skip for their kids, and why? 

Kristine Sheedy: We know that parents and health care professionals across the U.S. are doing a good job protecting babies and young children from vaccine-preventable diseases because data from our 2011 National Immunization Survey (NIS) shows immunization coverage among children 19 to 35 months remained stable or increased for all recommended vaccines. In fact, coverage for most of the routine vaccines remains at or over 90 percent, and less than 1 percent of young children get no vaccinations.

Published data from a 2010 survey of parents indicated that the seasonal flu vaccine is the vaccine that parents report they most commonly refuse for their children. The most common reason parents indicated that they refused this vaccine was because they felt it was "not needed." Each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized because of flu complications, and over 100 die, according to CDC statistics.

The vaccine that parents most often reported delaying was the MMR vaccine. The most common reason for delaying MMR was "fear of serious side effects." It is important to note, however, that each recommended vaccine on the childhood immunization schedule was mentioned by at least a few respondents as being refused or delayed at some point. This information shows how variable delay and refusal can be among parents. Children do not receive any known benefits from following schedules that delay vaccines. We do know that delaying vaccines puts children at known risk of becoming ill with vaccine-preventable diseases. CDC continues to monitor parents’ desire to follow alternative schedules and address their concerns and reasons for wanting to do so.

NPH: How does this trend toward departing from the recommended vaccine schedule affect U.S. outbreaks of disease? 

Kristine Sheedy: If enough children do not get immunized, it can break down community immunity and pose a danger to kids who are either too young to get vaccinated or unable to get vaccinated against the diseases (like children being treated for cancer), as well as those children for whom the vaccine did not provide immunity (unfortunately, vaccines are not 100 percent effective). Although immunization rates for vaccines routinely recommended for children remain at or near record highs, recent outbreaks of measles in the United States underscore the importance of maintaining high immunization rates by successfully addressing parents’ questions and concerns about childhood vaccines.

During 2011, 222 measles cases and 17 measles outbreaks were reported to CDC from 31 states and New York City—the most measles we’ve seen in this country since 1996. The people affected ranged in age from 3 months to 84 years. In the majority of the cases, the disease came into the United States from an infected traveler coming from another country. Even though in the United States, we′re very fortunate to benefit from very high levels of immunization, measles is extremely contagious and is very good at finding unimmunized people. That is what happened in 2011. Most of the people (86%) with measles were not vaccinated against measles (65%) or they did not know if they were vaccinated (21%). Of these cases, 23 were among infants 15 months old and younger. Measles can cause serious complications and even death—70 people (32%) with measles in 2011 had to be hospitalized. 

Children should receive two doses of measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine for best protection—the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age. Giving the second dose of the vaccine earlier is allowed at any time as long as it is at least 28 days after the first dose. For those who travel internationally, CDC recommends that all U.S. residents older than 6 months be protected from measles and receive MMR vaccine, if needed, prior to departure.

>>Bonus Link: The CDC already has started a web page for the 2013-2014 flu season. Check the site for updates and follow CDC flu on Twitter.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.