One in 7 parents have not discussed vaccines with their child's regular primary care clinician during the past 2 years, according to the CS Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, released this month.
While most (80%) of poll respondents report they have talked with the child’s clinician about vaccines required for school, fewer have discussed immunizations for influenza (68%) and COVID-19 (57%). A small subset of parents may even be avoiding the conversation altogether, the poll suggests.
The nationally representative report is based on responses from 1483 parents with at least one child aged 6 to 18 years.
“Historically, parents have relied on their child’s pediatrician or other primary care provider to guide them in decisions about their child’s health, including recommendations about vaccines,” said Mott Poll codirector Sarah Clark, MPH, in a CS Motts Children's Hospital statement.
“With a new vaccine like COVID, we would expect parents to have a lot of questions and concerns, and we would expect parents to turn to that trusted primary care provider who has guided them through other vaccine decisions for their child.” Clark speculates that fewer discussions around the COVID vaccine could reflect a trend away from the primary care clinician as the “go-to source” on the topic.
She adds that children’s well visits with their regular health care professional are an important opportunity for parents to ask questions about vaccines and vaccination, particularly given changes over time in vaccine timing and risks and benefits. The arrival of a new vaccine should be a prime topic for questions and discussions.
Clark also points out that limitations on in-person office visits could easily have inhibited information exchange. “During the pandemic we saw a lot of misinformation and division over vaccines, as well as disruptions in care because of COVID precautions,” she continues. “This may have affected how often parents were talking with their child’s regular provider.” That situation, in turn, may have prompted parents to seek vaccine guidance from sources less accurate than a trusted pediatrician.
Parental concerns around irritating clinicians with questions about vaccines appear unfounded with 4 in 5 poll respondents reporting only positive interactions with a child’s regular doctor about flu or COVID vaccines. The majority polled described providers as being open to their questions and concerns, and more than 70% said they learned information that was helpful to their decision making.
Parents who did discuss vaccines with a child’s regular health care professional also were more likely to get their child vaccinated.
Gaining access to vaccination, however, did present a challenge for a quarter of the parents responding who noted problems over the past 2 years including having to go to another location or difficulty scheduling appointments. Such difficulties were more likely to be reported by parents who said they had not discussed vaccines.
Clark notes some of these challenges could be related to pandemic precautions, including limited in-person visits and reliance on telehealth, when pediatricians may have felt more rushed and not covered all recommended topics, including vaccines.
Further, not all vaccines are offered at all clinic sites, observes Clark, adding that clinicians may also be less likely to discuss vaccines that are not able to provide. While school vaccines are often in stock and ready to be administered at any time, flu and COVID shots mat not be consistently available in child health practices.
“This situation disrupts the parent-provider discussion around those vaccines,” Clark said. “Even when parents bring the child in for a visit, they may be told that they need to go elsewhere to get flu and COVID vaccines, requiring extra time and hassle for families.”
Among the most concerning findings: a subset of parents who opt out of any vaccines for their child may be avoiding crucial health conversations with health professionals.
Six percent of parents say their child does not get any vaccines. Among this group, 43% report no vaccine discussions with any healthcare provider in the past 2 years.
Another 3% of parents say they delayed or skipped a healthcare visit for their child to avoid talking about vaccines. While that number seems small, “3% translates to a lot of children across America,” Clark notes.
“When parents delay or skip visits altogether, they are not prioritizing their child’s well-being,” she added. “Children won’t receive screening for medical or mental health problems, and parents will not receive information or guidance about how to keep their child healthy and safe.”