Forty percent of U.S. parents say they would likely find a new doctor if their child's primary care provider sees families who refuse childhood vaccines, a nationwide poll finds.
And three in 10 say their child's primary care provider should not treat youngsters whose parents refuse all vaccines.
Those are key findings of the latest C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health from the University of Michigan. The findings, published Aug. 19, are based on responses from 2,032 parents of at least one child aged 18 or younger.
"When a family refuses all childhood vaccines, it puts providers in a challenging position," poll co-director Sarah Clark said in a university news release announcing the findings.
Not only is an unvaccinated child unprotected against harmful and contagious diseases -- such as measles, whooping cough and chickenpox -- those who skip vaccines also pose a risk of transmitting diseases to other patients, she pointed out.
"This can be especially risky exposure for vulnerable populations, including infants too young to receive vaccines, elderly patients, patients with weakened immune systems or pregnant women," Clark added.
But many parents were unaware of their health care provider's policies, and some were unconcerned.
Thirty-nine percent said their child's primary care provider requires patients to get all recommended vaccines; 8 percent said only some vaccines are required; and 15 percent said their provider has no policy. Almost four in 10 weren't sure.
But 29 percent of respondents said they'd be "somewhat likely" to look for another doctor if theirs saw kids whose parents had refused all vaccines. Twelve percent would be "very likely" to switch, the findings showed.
Six percent said their provider doesn't let unvaccinated kids use the common waiting room; 2 percent said they are allowed do so if they wear a mask. About one-quarter said their provider had no restrictions.
Many parents favor tighter controls: 17 percent said unvaccinated kids should be kept out of the waiting room and 27 percent said any allowed in should have to wear masks. Yet, 28 percent of parents favored no restrictions.
About 43 percent said they would want to know if other patients at their child's primary care practice had received no vaccines, while 33 percent would not, according to the poll.
Clark said recent measles outbreaks underscore the need for parents and providers to consider policies for unvaccinated children.
"Parents may assume that when they take their child to the doctor, they are in a setting that will not expose their child to diseases," she said. "Parents may not have considered that there could be another child in the waiting room whose parents have refused all vaccines."
Clark said providers need to consider whether to adopt policies to prevent exposure to vaccine-preventable diseases and then communicate them to everyone in their practice.
"Any parent -- and particularly parents of infants or immunocompromised children -- should ask their child's primary care provider about policies surrounding unvaccinated children," she advised.
The poll, administered in February to a representative sample of parents, has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 to 3 percentage points.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on vaccinations.
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