The overwhelming majority of Canadian parents get their children vaccinated — but that doesn’t mean they don’t have at least some concerns over safety and effectiveness.
A survey of 1,029 Canadians commissioned by Health Canada took an in-depth look into parents’ awareness, attitudes and beliefs when it comes to vaccinations for children between zero to six years of age.
The report, titled “Survey for the Development of the Childhood Vaccination Campaign,” was completed by 828 parents of children in that age group. It will be used to form the government’s future awareness campaign on the importance of vaccinating children.
Canadians who are the most ‘vaccine-hesitant’
The survey found that parents in certain provinces are more “vaccine-hesitant” than others.
Thirteen per cent of parents in B.C. said they had “low trust” in vaccinations, compared to five per cent nationally. Meanwhile, parents in Quebec were more likely than others to be concerned about possible medical side-effects.
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Parents in Atlantic Canada (92 per cent) and Ontario (89 per cent) were the most likely to trust vaccinations.
Canadian men were more likely to trust vaccinations than women, at 87 per cent compared to 82 per cent.
Overall, 48 per cent of Canadian parents and expecting parents said they have no doubts or concerns about vaccination. One in three said they have minor doubts, while six per cent said they have many doubts but still get their kids vaccinated.
One in 10 said they had “refused or delayed” some vaccinations for their children due to doubts and concerns.
The survey also reported that Canadians with higher levels of education were more likely to trust vaccinations. Eighty-nine per cent of those with a university education believed in vaccinating children, while those with a high school education had the lowest trust at 73 per cent.
Julie Bettinger, a researcher at BC Children’s Hospital and associate professor at the University of British Columbia, explained that having concerns about vaccinations is quite common.
“It’s important to recognize that vaccine hesitancy is a spectrum,” she told Global News.
“It would go from individuals who accept all vaccines with no questions, and the other end of the spectrum would be people who reject vaccines and never take them. I think the majority of people likely fall somewhere in between there.”
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Why parents may be concerned
While 74 per cent of Canadian parents said deciding on vaccinating children was an “easy” decision, it was “difficult” for 11 per cent.
Some parents who had difficulty making the decision said they were concerned about the validity of information about vaccinations, and uncertainly about whether it is bias or dishonest.
Other parents were concerned about the contradicting information that exists about vaccinations, with some groups claiming they can be harmful to children.
Concerned parents cited several reasons — some common ones included possible allergic reactions, a lack of trust in the pharmaceutical, side effects, toxic ingredients, and a lack of testing on the vaccinations.
Parents also indicated in the survey that there are certain questions about vaccinations they’d like answered, such as information on side effects and statistics on how many people are actually affected.
They also wanted more explanations on scheduling and timings of vaccinations — which ones are needed at what age and why.
Some parents also wanted to know about possible consequences of refusing vaccinations.
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Sources of information
The survey also found that the large majority of parents, at 89 per cent, cited health-care professionals as their primary source of information on vaccinations. About 55 per cent admitted they use the internet, while 36 per cent said they ask family or friends, and 30 per cent cited pharmacists.
Forty per cent of those who rely on the internet said they used parenting or pregnancy websites, while 21 per cent used Web MD, and 19 per cent used Google searches. Other online sources that parents used included chat rooms, social media, Mayo Clinic and more.
Only five per cent said they referred to Health Canada’s online resources. However, Health Canada was among the most trusted source for information at 79 per cent.
The most trusted source was health-care professionals at 91 per cent.
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Bettinger explained that parents doing their research online should look to government sources such as information on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website, or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that’s not enough — consultations with health-care providers are imperative.
She said that’s why having a strong trust relationship with a health-care provider is important.
“You need to take the time to understand their concerns and have a conversation and try to address them.”
This Health Canada survey was carried out by EKOS Research Associates Inc. and conducted both online and through telephone. It was completed by 1,029 Canadians, including 828 parents of children aged six or younger, and 201 women who are expecting or intending on becoming pregnant in the near future. The survey was conducted in November 2017. The sample was weighted by region.