The anti-vaxxer movement is gaining ground, with worried parents choosing to ignore medical advice and avoid vaccinations for their children. Here’s a timely reminder on the information and advice you need to give patients and their parents
Scepticism about the benefits, and concern about the potential risks, of vaccination is nothing new but, fuelled by pseudo-science and scaremongering – much of it shared online through social media – more and more parents are choosing not to have their children vaccinated.
The anti-vaccination movement is accurately described by researchers as a ‘regression in modern medicine’ which puts children at an elevated and unnecessary risk of infection. While some parents will be set on their decision to refuse vaccinations, practices can support those parents who have concerns with information and advice that will reassure them that the NHS is doing the right thing for their child’s health.
What do children receive?
The list of vaccinations for children can be daunting for new parents. A complete chronological breakdown of vaccinations is available on the NHS website.
NICE advises healthcare professionals to give two pieces of advice to parents:
- Explain the benefits of vaccination, in particular, that it helps prevent serious illness in children, especially potentially severe diseases such as meningitis, whooping cough and tetanus.
- Reassure that vaccinations are safe, and serious adverse effects are very rare. Pain, swelling and reddening at the site of injection are most common and systemic adverse effects, should they occur, are usually limited to mild fever.
While these conversations are best had by medical professionals, practice staff should all be aware of the official NHS line and be prepared to share it with parents if asked.
Can parents refuse vaccinations?
The NHS is clear that a parent can refuse any of the child’s recommended vaccinations should they choose to. It is essential that each parent is asked for their consent before each vaccination. If consent is refused it should be recorded in the child’s medical notes and in the red book.
In some cases, the vaccines can be administered at a later date, should the parent eventually give consent, but this discussion should be held with the GP as each individual has different requirements. While information is increasingly shared across systems, parents should be advised to note which vaccinations have been missed and to share this information with all medical professionals, where relevant.
There is a lot in the news around vaccinations and the social impact children may experience if their parents decide to refuse them. While the stories are worrying, and the potential impact on children of avoiding vaccinations are grave, personal opinion should be removed from any discussion.
Where to go for information
The NHS website includes an even-handed analysis of the benefits and risks of vaccinations.
The Start4Life website is a simple and clear website written for new parents. It’s full of useful information and advice, including matter-of-fact content around vaccinations.
The NHS has created a handy vaccination planner for parents to help them to plan and manage their child’s vaccinations.