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Experts say delaying vaccinations can put young children at risk of developing serious illnesses that vaccines can prevent. Getty Images
  • A new study reports that one-third of parents in the United States delay vaccinations for their children.
  • Parents tell Healthline that they made their decision based on books and online materials they’ve read.
  • Experts say delaying vaccines can put young children at risk of developing serious illnesses.

When her fourth child was born 9 years ago, Alice Dorn did something she hadn’t done with her previous three children.

She adopted her own personally set schedule for her child’s immunizations.

“Our pediatrician did not like it at all,” Dorn told Healthline. “She was willing to go along with it, but she did not like it at all.”

How did Dorn remain confident in using her own schedule for her child?

“I just trusted my gut,” she said.

Dorn isn’t alone.

A study published today in the journal Pediatrics reports that one-third of parents in the United States are now choosing to delay vaccinations for their young children.

That isn’t good news nor is it surprising, according to Dr. Ofer Levy, the director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts.

“The trajectory over 5 to 10 years on hesitancy has been concerning,” Levy told Healthline. “Over the past decade and around the world, 90 to 95 percent of social media content (on this subject) is anti-vax. It’s disturbing. We are at a breaking point with vaccinations. We’re seeing diseases we had irradiated come back.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children be vaccinated against 14 potentially serious illnesses in their first 2 years of life.

The new study is the first of its kind to include a wider berth of suggested childhood vaccinations than those 14.

These include rotavirus and hepatitis A vaccines, newer vaccinations not included in the CDC’s annual data.

The researchers note that even children with full vaccine coverage by 19 to 35 months of age may miss the recommended immunization schedule in their first 18 months, leaving them vulnerable to preventable diseases.

The study found that a third of children are missing doses on that approved schedule.

“We know the schedule is designed to protect from disease,” said Robert A. Bednarczyk, PhD, an assistant professor of global health and epidemiology at the Emory Vaccine Center in Georgia and a co-author of the study.

The one-third number, he said, could help the medical field focus more on helping parents understand the need for the schedule.

“(The results of this study) lets pediatricians know that this may potentially be a bigger issue than we’ve recognized (in the past),” Bednarczyk told Healthline. “I hope these findings can help spur (pediatricians) to make sure that children are scheduled on time and that parents understand why. These schedules are created by people with great expertise.”

The reason for concern is the timing, as researchers and medical experts created the schedule for the safest and best coverage from disease, he said.

What leads to the delayed schedules?

The study didn’t do a deep dive, but it did find that children above the poverty level were more likely to follow the schedule than those below it.

In addition, parents such as Dorn are seeking their own input and then making decisions from what they read in books and online sources.

One mother of four in Michigan also developed her own schedule for vaccinations based very much, she said, on books she read.

“I felt I could trust the source,” said the mother, who preferred not to give her name. “I weighed the best information I could find from sources I could trust.”

It wasn’t, she told Healthline, a decision she made lightly.

“There are things over time that the medical community has gotten wrong. So I had enough reasonable doubt,” she said. “To blindly accept ‘the doctor told me to do this so I am’ is not who I am.”

However, Levy, who has treated a young child in the hospital with meningitis that led to permanent brain injury, said delaying vaccinations is risky business.

“Infections are most common in the early and late years of life,” he said. “Most infections that cause death come at those two times.”

He believes vaccinations and their timing may be “victims of their own success.”

When people stop seeing outbreaks of deadly disease, he said, they can forget.

“It’s incredible when you look at the deaths that vaccinations prevent,” he noted.

Levy hopes the public pays attention to the study and to what delaying doses can mean.

“Everybody’s a health expert now,” he said. “They can Google anything and then feel they know more than (decades of study has found). If people want to know what vaccines cause: They cause adults.”