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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Kids Count on Us for Protection from Serious Diseases

Every weekday in my office I do well-child checkups. These are meant to keep children safe and healthy by assessing their growth and development and protecting them from serious, preventable diseases with vaccinations. The checkups also give parents a chance to ask questions about their children.

We usually start with me catching up with the family about new things their child is doing. Then I do an exam. After the exam, I have fun playing with the child for a bit while the parents ask a few last questions. When we’re done, my nurse comes in to vaccinate the child. Based on supporting information, most families choose to vaccinate.

However, some families choose not to vaccinate, and research shows vaccination rates for children are declining. A new study by Kaiser Permanente physicians and other researchers, “Vaccination Patterns in Children After Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis and in Their Younger Siblings,” published in JAMA Pediatrics sheds light on this decline.

The study found more children are not getting vaccinated for protection from preventable diseases due to parental fear of autism. This study sought to determine whether this decline disproportionately affects children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their siblings. In short, are parents less likely to vaccinate their kids if one of them has ASD? The answer is yes. As a parent and a pediatrician, this lack of protection concerns me.

This landmark study was quite large and spanned a period of ten years. The vaccination records of over 500,000 children and their younger siblings (3,700 with ASD and the rest without ASD) were studied. Its conclusions were concerning:

  • Children between ages 4 and 6 with ASD are 12% less likely to receive the recommended vaccines than children without ASD.
  • Younger siblings of children with ASD received the recommended vaccines 12% less often than younger siblings of children without ASD.
  • Parents who had a child with ASD were more likely to refuse or limit the number of vaccines administered during the younger sibling’s first year of life.

This means that despite over a decade of thorough research showing vaccines do not cause autism, parents may still be choosing to not vaccinate because of their fears.

As a pediatrician, I’ve seen children harmed by diseases that vaccines protect against. For the parents I talk with in my office, these diseases may just be abstract medical names – pneumococcus, haemophilus, pertussis. But for me, they have other names – those of the children I cared for. I don’t want to add more names to my list.

As a parent, I always think carefully before giving my children medicine, treatment, or a vaccine. For me though, my questions are balanced by a firsthand knowledge of the risks to kids from these preventable diseases – those are far more concerning than any possible vaccine side effects.

As a mother influenced by what I’ve seen as a pediatrician, the choice has been clear – my 3 children are protected with vaccines. Kaiser Permanente’s pediatricians understand parents’ questions and concerns about vaccinations. We know you’re committed to doing everything you can to help keep your child and the community healthy and safe. We are too. That’s why we recommend protecting children against serious, preventable diseases with routine vaccines. The research is clear. Vaccines do not cause autism.

Resources for Parents:

My Doctor Online
Immunizations (Shots) for Babies and Young Children
Immunizations (Shots) for Older Children and Teens