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JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page
July 27, 2020

Opting Out of Vaccines for Your Child

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of Florida, Gainesville
  • 2Department of Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics, University of Florida, Gainesville
JAMA Pediatr. 2020;174(9):916. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.2475

During the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, there has been a critical decline in children receiving their routine vaccines.

While we focus on preventing the COVID-19 outbreak, we cannot forget protecting against vaccine-preventable illnesses. As a parent, you may have questions or concerns about your child’s vaccinations. If you are unsure or choose not to vaccinate, you need to understand the consquence of that decision. The rate of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, is increasing around the country because too many people choose not to vaccinate, decreasing herd immunity. While we continue to face the challenges of a global pandemic, it is more important than ever that people take advantage of defenses provided by vaccines. An unvaccinated child is more likely to need to go to a clinic or hospital when sick, which could increase their risk of being exposed to COVID-19. Consider the following information.

First, seek information from trusted sources. To keep your child safe, ask questions and request information about vaccines from your child’s physician. Online resources are helpful and easy to find; however, just because something is on the internet does not make it true. Blogs, editorials, or other opinion pieces may have serious misinformation. The resources at the end of this Patient Page can help you evaluate health information on the internet. Vaccines do have some possible adverse events, including soreness, mild fever, and headache. Most adverse events are rare and are often linked to an allergy or specific medical condition. Your child is far less likely to be hurt by a vaccine than by the disease itself.

Second, think about what your child may miss if you decide against vaccination. We learned from recent outbreaks that unimmunized children might need to be excluded from everyday activities. During the outbreaks of chicken pox in 2007 and measles in 2019, some unvaccinated children had to stay out of school for weeks. Unvaccinated children who get sick may need invasive tests to ensure that a deadly, vaccine-preventable disease is not the cause of their illness.

Third, do not believe myths. The most widely known myth is a reported link between the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and autism. It came from a false study in the 1990s that was later retracted by the journal that initially published it. Since then, many research studies have shown no connection between autism and any vaccine. While the prevalence of autism has increased over the past 20 years, the increasing numbers are largely because we understand and can diagnose it better.

As your child gets older, they may seek vaccine information on their own. Unvaccinated teenagers have asked for vaccines for themselves after seeking information on vaccine risks and benefits. In addition to protecting your child, vaccines give benefits to your extended family and community. Much like social distancing measures that are being put into place during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are personal and community benefits to vaccinating your child. We know questions will continue as we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine, but before delaying or opting out of vaccinations, please do your due diligence to inform yourself in making the best decision for your child.

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The JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page is a public service of JAMA Pediatrics. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your child’s medical condition, JAMA Pediatrics suggests that you consult your child’s physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, email reprints@jamanetwork.com.
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Article Information

Published Online: July 27, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.2475

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

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    1 Comment for this article
    EXPAND ALL
    Every Vaccine-Hesitant Parent Should Know
    John R. Dykers, Jr., MD | Chair Emeritus Thursday Morning Intellectual Society, Chatham Hospital, Siler City, NC, now UNC West
    I am old enough to have lived through the miseries of measles, mumps, whooping cough, and chickenpox as a child. I have the scar of my small pox vaccination. Rubella was mild and I barely remember it. I do remember our fears and quarantines and empty swimming pools of polio 'epidemics' in summers. A long-term friend just shared with me the joy of a new lightweight leg brace to replace the heavy one he has worn for 71 years. If my parents had denied me vaccinations for these miserable illnesses because of their belief systems, I would never have forgiven them.
    CONFLICT OF INTEREST: see Dykers.com CV
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