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Why do parents refuse vaccines? They don’t think they’re necessary anymore: study

More parents today believe vaccines are unnecessary, a U.S. survey by the American Academy of Pediatrics has found. The most common reason, provided by three out of every four parents: Vaccines are unnecessary because the diseases they prevent have been wiped out. But doctors are reminding parents that vaccination should continue to be a civic duty.

Alarming results from a new survey suggest that more pediatricians are encountering parents who are saying no to common vaccines.

In 2013, 87 per cent of doctors dealt with parents who turned down vaccines — up from 75 per cent in 2006, according to a new report out of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published Monday.

Turns out, there are a handful of reasons why parents aren’t vaccinating their kids against measles, whooping cough and chicken pox. The most common reason: they simply think they aren’t necessary anymore. That was the case for three out of every four parents. Those who thought childhood vaccines aren’t necessary because the diseases have been virtually wiped out increased by 10 per cent between 2006 and 2013.

READ MORE: 6 vaccination myths debunked

“People today may not remember that before vaccines, diseases like whooping cough, measles, polio, meningitis and diphtheria sickened and claimed the lives of thousands of children and adults each year in the United States,” Dr. Kathryn Edwards, one of the study’s co-authors, said.

“Serious disease can occur if your child and family are not vaccinated,” she said.

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Along with measles outbreaks, whooping cough, chicken pox and mumps — all preventable with vaccines — have also resurfaced in the Western world. Doctors, and their research, are pointing to one culprit: a steadily growing anti-vaccination movement.

“When people say some of this might be related to low vaccine rates among people, that’s a huge understatement,” Dr. Gerald Evans, a Queen’s University medicine professor and director of infection control at Kingston General Hospital, told Global News.

“It’s all because of vaccination rates falling. It’s 100 per cent blamed on the fact that people aren’t getting vaccinated,” Evans said.

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READ MORE: Anti-vaccination movement means preventable diseases making a comeback

The AAP report warned that parents were delaying vaccination because they were worried their kids would be uncomfortable or that their immune systems would take a hit.

What changed are parents’ concerns over the alleged link between vaccines and autism. In 2006, 74 per cent of pediatricians thought it was the top reason why parents were refusing vaccination for their kids. In 2013, 64 per cent of doctors said it was still an issue for parents.

(For its part, the Canadian Paediatric Society says there is no scientific evidence to support any theories linking autism to vaccines.)

Another troubling finding from the survey is that more pediatricians are turning away patients because they’re repeat offenders in turning down vaccines for their kids.

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READ MORE: Which Toronto schools have the lowest measles vaccination rates?

In 2006, six per cent of doctors dismissed patients who wouldn’t vaccinate their kids but in 2013, that number crept up to 12 per cent.

The AAP is urging doctors to be patient with worried families — they are, after all, the best source of information on vaccination for parents.

In another AAP report published Monday, researchers doled out recommendations to try to boost immunization rates across the U.S.

WATCH ABOVE: Actress and longtime anti-vaccination advocate Jenny McCarthy has reversed her position on getting vaccinated, saying she never told parents not to do it.

They’re calling for scrapping non-medical exemptions. This is when parents can refuse vaccines for religious or philosophical reasons.

“It’s clear that states with more lenient exemptions policies have lower immunization rates, and it’s these states where we have seen disease outbreaks occur as the rates slip below the threshold needed to maintain community immunity,” said Dr. Geoffrey Simon, lead author of the policy statement.

It’s hard to remind parents about the importance of vaccines when the diseases they protect against haven’t been around for decades.

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READ MORE: How should health officials reverse an anti-vaxxer movement?

Dr. Michael Gardam suggests there’s an ebb and flow to the way these diseases disappear and recur.

“I really do try to see it from both sides. When vaccines work extremely well and you have almost no disease around, it gets very hard to sell a vaccine,” Gardam said.

He’s the director of infection prevention and control at University Health Network.

“The problem is over time, [refusing vaccines] brings back measles. These things are very cyclical where we may continue to see waning vaccination rates and then you’ll see resurgence of the disease, which will inevitably push up vaccination rates,” Gardam said.

Read the AAP’s two reports here and here.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca