A new study suggests younger doctors are slightly more sceptical than older doctors about vaccination, prompting experts to suggest that this may be because they under-estimate the dangers of vaccine-preventable diseases.
The survey of 551 doctors revealed that recent graduates were less likely than experienced colleagues to believe that vaccines are effective. Younger respondents were also less convinced of the safety of major childhood vaccines.
The news adds to ongoing concerns that vaccines have been the victims of their own success, leading doctors and the public to grow complacent about illnesses which were major public health threats in decades past.
The authors of the study, conducted by academics at the Rollins School of Public Health in Emory University, suggest newly-minted doctors have “an altered perception of the risk-benefit balanced of immunisation”, largely because this generation of healthcare providers has seen fewer severe cases of diseases such as whooping cough, meningitis, and polio.
Presenting their work at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the researchers suggest that vaccine-related components of the medical curricula could be reviewed as a result.
The physician factor
The role of doctors in improving vaccine uptake rates has come into sharp focus of late, particularly in Europe where a major measles epidemic continues to rage in several countries.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has urged health professionals to take a more active role in encouraging parents to vaccinate their children against childhood diseases.
In an article published in the Eurosurveillancejournal, leading ECDC officials said patients trust their doctors more than other sources of health information, but that some physicians hold ambivalent attitudes to immunisation.
The problem has also climbed up the political agenda. In June, EU Health Ministers agreed a package of measures designed to boost childhood immunisation.
National governments were urged to invest in health professionals’ awareness of the benefits of vaccination and to strengthen doctors’ support for immunisation programmes.
Reinforcing education and training of health professionals on childhood immunisation was a key part of the deal.
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