Guest Commentary: Vaccine Hesitancy Leading to Lower Immunization Rates


Ruth S. Gubernick, MPH

I am the proud grandmother of a 5-month-old granddaughter whose parents are having her immunized by her pediatrician, according to the Recommended Immunization Schedule, approved by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

Recent articles and a national survey are reporting, however, that at least one out of every 10 parents in this country are not following this recommended schedule and are opting out of immunizing their children either on time or at all. Most of these parents are college-educated professionals. Some of these children will be the playmates of my granddaughter.

Vaccine hesitancy is resulting in lower immunization rates in the U.S. today. This year alone, we’ve had outbreaks of whooping cough and measles in several U.S. communities. Those diseases are only a plane ride away. Several people incubating measles flew into Newark, NJ earlier this year coming in contact with young families in several communities. The un/under-protected infants and children in those communities without high immunization rates or community/herd immunity were especially at risk of disease.

Parents don’t want the government or anyone else to make those decisions for their children. I get that. But the problem is where they are choosing to get their information about vaccine safety. It’s often the talking heads on TV and Internet bloggers with misinformation, rather than science-based research. I’m in favor of individual rights but their decisions for their own children can adversely impact my granddaughter, who is not yet old enough to be protected against diseases such as measles or chickenpox.

As a public health professional, I see immunizations as a societal responsibility, to protect those who are too young or otherwise unable to receive these recommended childhood immunizations against 14 potentially life-threatening vaccine preventable diseases. Parents who hold “pox parties” or share “lolly-pox” with their infected child’s saliva or swabs dabbed with fluid from their child’s pox with other families, rather than have their children immunized, make me crazy. Natural disease is not less risky than a vaccine!

I recently piloted an online course that I designed and built for the JSPH Teaching/Learning Seminar required for my doctoral program. It is about immunizations and targets college-educated professionals who are new parents. My students reported that video clips of parents telling their own stories had the most impact on them. I introduced the course with How safe are we? The Role of Vaccines in Protecting your Community ( ). It opens with a mom sharing how she felt about unknowingly infecting her newborn with Pertussis. Share these stories with the families that you care for and care about who may be vaccine hesitant. As a grandparent and population health advocate and student, I thank you.

Ruth Gubernick is a JSPH doctoral student.


  • January 2, 2012

    Here, here!
    If history is forgotten, history will be repeated. As a baby boomer, the only vaccination I had as a child was the polio vaccine. I suffered through measles, German measles, mumps, chicken pox and scarlet fever. I survived (obviously), others did not. People today have not seen the childhood epidemics that swept through this country only 50-60 years ago. They are not familiar with the pictures of children in “iron lungs.” My great fear, is that there will be a childhood epidemic that sweeps through the unimmunized with devastating results before people wise-up and get their kids immunized.

  • January 2, 2012

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • March 26, 2012

    This is a good common sense Blog. Very helpful to one who is just finding the resources about this part. It will certainly help educate me.

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