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South Nassau Truth In Medicine Poll: Many Parents Remain Unclear About Safety of Vaccines

Some Still Mistakenly Believe There is a Link to Autism

Posted: Sep. 6, 2017

Some parents remain uncertain about the safety of vaccines and some mistakenly believe there is a link between autism and getting their children vaccinated, despite overwhelming scientific evidence pointing to the benefits of vaccinations in the fight against the spread of deadly childhood diseases.

While over 90% of area parents say they have had their children vaccinated, almost 40% are unsure or believe that vaccines can potentially cause autism, according to the latest South Nassau Truth in Medicine™ poll of metro area residents.

Meanwhile, almost 30% of the respondents believe children who are unvaccinated should be allowed to attend school.

Attitudes regarding autism and social interactions with those who have not been vaccinated varied by age, gender and racial lines, the poll showed.

The South Nassau Truth in Medicine Poll, sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, surveyed 600 residents of Long Island and New York City as part of South Nassau’s effort to gather data about public attitudes on key public health topics and help spur public education to improve health. This is the third South Nassau poll this year. Two earlier polls gauged public attitudes about going to work with the flu and about the dangers of antibiotic overuse.

The vaccine poll results show:

  • 88% believe vaccines are safe, necessary and effective
  • 10 % believe vaccines can cause autism, and almost 30% more say they are not sure
  • Among those who believe in, or are uncertain about, a link between vaccines and autism, only 73% say vaccines are “safe,” 74% say they are “necessary,” and 74% say they are “effective”
  • Some 32 percent of respondents said that pediatricians should be allowed to refuse to see patients who have not been vaccinated.

Parental refusal of vaccinations remains a growing concern across the country and around the world. The CDC and every other major infectious diseases, internal medicine and Pediatric Society all strongly encourage and recommend the routine childhood vaccinations. As children return to school, it is important for parents to understand the role vaccinations play in your child’s health and the importance of having your child vaccinated, South Nassau’s medical experts said.

“Parents who delay or refuse to vaccinate their children based on personal and nonmedical beliefs are putting their children and others at risk,” said Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, South Nassau’s Department of Medicine Chair and Hospital Epidemiologist who also is a spokesman for the Infectious Disease Society of America. “It is a great concern that uncertainty and misinformation about the link between autism and vaccines, which has been clearly disproven in numerous analyses, makes parents less trusting of these important vaccines.”

Today’s medical research indicates that there are certain genetic and environmental factors that may cause autism, but vaccines are not a factor. “Because there were unproven concerns that Autism Spectrum Disorder was linked to children’s vaccines and thimerosal, a compound that contains mercury and was used as a vaccine additive, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have compiled overwhelming medical and scientific research that does not support any connection between vaccines and autism,” said Glatt.

New York State requires children in a prekindergarten setting to have proper age-appropriate immunizations. There are seven most common vaccinations: Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (DTP); Polio; Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR); Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib); Hepatitis B; Chickenpox; and Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). The dosage depends on the schedule recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). It is recommended that vaccinations be given at the earliest age appropriate time to increase their safest use.

There are exceptions to the New York State immunization requirements, including if a student has a valid medical or religious exemption, but not a philosophical exemption. A medical exemption could include proven immunity if a child has had the disease.

Dr. Adhi Sharma, South Nassau’s Chief Medical Officer, acknowledged that there may be communication gaps between parents and medical providers when it comes to vaccines, but expressed concerns about children who are exposed to other children who are not vaccinated. He said, “It is a physician’s responsibility to educate parents about the importance of vaccines. It is also within a physician’s right to refuse to accept into his/her practice patients who refuse to follow the appropriate guidelines on vaccinations if they feel they are putting other patients at risk.”

The South Nassau poll, which tests respondents’ knowledge on key public health topics, found a slight variation of attitudes about vaccinations that at times broke down along gender, age and racial lines. The poll found that:

  • Residents in the 35-49 age group were slightly less likely to have their children vaccinated than their parents’ generation, even though they agreed with their parents that vaccines were safe
  • Parents in the 35-49 age category were most likely to believe vaccines can cause autism or expressed uncertainty about the link between vaccines and autism. These parents were most likely to think unvaccinated children should be allowed in schools and exempt them for religious or personal reasons
  • White parents are more likely to vaccinate than parents of color and are more likely to support efforts to keep unvaccinated children out of schools and doctors’ offices

The South Nassau Truth in Medicine Poll, sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, was conducted via both landlines and cell phones from June 19-22 with 600 adults in New York City and on Long Island. The poll was conducted as part of the hospital’s mission of improving education around critical public health issues. The poll was conducted by a nationally recognized, independent polling firm, LJR Custom Strategies, which has offices in Washington, DC and New Orleans, LA. LJR has conducted more than 2,000 studies for a broad spectrum of health care, business, education, cultural, and political clients in almost every state in the country and around the world.

“The South Nassau ‘Truth in Medicine’ Poll is meant to shine a light on public health issues that deserve more attention,” said Richard J. Murphy, South Nassau’s President & CEO. “Clearly, the importance of vaccinations remains a public health concern where we could all benefit from a proper and concise education.”

This is South Nassau’s third in a series of public health polls, and the first time it has been sponsored by Bethpage. Bethpage provided a $25,000 grant to help publicize the results of the poll to advance public education on key health-related topics. The ultimate goal of the Truth in Medicine Poll is to educate the public about health issues so they can take better care of themselves and seek out appropriate medical care when needed.

“Bethpage is very proud to support South Nassau’s initiatives to help uncover our communities’ concerns and uncertainties on key public health issues such as childhood vaccinations,” said Linda Armyn, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Bethpage. “A highly debatable and important topic, it is vital that leading healthcare facilities such as South Nassau help clear up any confusion that exists when it comes to vaccinating our children. Bethpage is a big proponent of health and wellness education and we applaud South Nassau for their efforts in helping to educate the community.”

Vaccines are not 100 % effective, but outbreaks of many contagious diseases are better controlled when most of the members of a community are vaccinated. (According to the first South Nassau Truth in Medicine poll administered in early January 2017, only 57 percent of those surveyed said they had gotten the flu shot. According to the CDC, an estimated 36,000 people die each year from complications from the flu.)

“Studies from around the world show that declines in vaccine coverage are directly correlated with an increase in the size and number of outbreaks, and there have been potentially preventable fatalities as a result,” said Dr. Glatt. “Vaccinations are one of the best ways to protect children from potentially harmful, even deadly, diseases. Even a minor decline in vaccination coverage can significantly increase the size of outbreaks and have substantial public health consequences and even lead to a health crisis.

“Vaccines are proven to prevent the outbreak of disease and save lives,” Glatt stated. “It is truly sad that because of misinformation that we have less than 100% vaccination rates. Only patients with a medical contraindication should not be vaccinated.”

Designated a Magnet® hospital by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) for outstanding nursing care, South Nassau® Communities Hospital is one of the region’s largest hospitals, with 455 beds, more than 900 physicians and 3,500 employees. Located in Oceanside, NY, the hospital is an acute-care, not-for-profit teaching hospital that provides state-of-the-art care in cardiac, oncologic, orthopedic, bariatric, pain management, mental health and emergency services.

In addition to its extensive outpatient specialty centers, South Nassau provides emergency and elective angioplasty, and offers Novalis Tx™ and Gamma Knife® radiosurgery technologies.  South Nassau operates the only Trauma Center on the South Shore of Nassau County verified by the American College of Surgeons as well as Long Island’s only free-standing, 9-1-1 receiving Emergency Department in Long Beach. South Nassau also is a designated Stroke Center by the New York State Department of Health and Comprehensive Community Cancer Center by the American College of Surgeons, and is an accredited center of the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Association and Quality Improvement Program.

In addition, the hospital has been awarded the Joint Commission’s gold seal of approval for disease-specific care for hip and knee replacement, heart failure, bariatric surgery, wound care and end-stage renal disease. For more information, visit www.southnassau.org.