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Doctors Agree to Delay Kids' Vaccines, Despite Risks

The Short of It

A new study finds that, despite the risks, most pediatricians agree to delay children's vaccines to keep parents from leaving their practices.

The Lowdown

Research conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics reveals that almost all doctors are asked by parents to delay kids' immunizations. What's more, the doctors are agreeing to do so against their better judgment.

In the study, which was published in the journal of "Pediatrics," 534 pediatricians were surveyed about how often parents ask to delay shots for kids younger than 2. A full 93 percent of participants admitted parents make this request at least once per month. One-third of those surveyed said they almost always comply with parents' demands; others said they sometimes do.

"Many physicians reported tension between the need to build trust with families by being willing to compromise on the schedule while simultaneously feeling they were putting children at risk and causing them unnecessary pain by spreading out vaccines on multiple visits," says Allison Kempe, MD, MPH, professor of pediatrics and director of ACCORDS (Adult and Child Center for Health Outcomes Research and Delivery Science) at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado.

The study indicates that doctors are most concerned with building long-term relationships with patients. But, they also understand how important it is to stick to the AAP's recommended immunization schedule. A majority, or 87 percent of participants, agreed delaying vaccines can put a child at risk for contracting preventable diseases. Meanwhile, 84 percent think it is more traumatic to space out shots and subject kids to multiple doctor's visits.

The Upshot

This study is startling to me as a parent because you want to believe your pediatrician is making decisions with only the health of the child in mind. But a doctor's office is a business, too, and I suppose it's only natural that the goal is to keep patients.

It's also true that doctors can't make parents do something they are against, even if they try. Doctors say parents delay vaccines for a variety of reasons, including the belief that kids will not catch a disease like measles and fears of autism and short-term side effects.

Rebecca Madan, M.D., a Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, N.Y. told there are actually several detriments to delaying vaccines: "You are not making the vaccine more safe by waiting. In fact, you are extending the amount of time your child is susceptible to various illnesses."

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