Information from health professionals
Every parent should have access to a trained health professional to chat about the risks of catching the diseases and about the benefits and potential risks of immunisation for their own child, and the population in general. In addition to their GP, health visitor or practice nurse, there is also an immunisation advisor in each local health protection unit, whom parents can talk to about their child's immunisations. (See Public Health England for details about local contacts). The GP can also refer parents to an immunology paediatric specialist for further advice on immunisations, if appropriate.
Many parents we interviewed felt strongly that doctors, health visitors and midwives would not give advice to parents if they believed it wasn't true or safe. Some felt that, when making decisions, it is best to be led by the health professionals because they are the experts.
Explains why she trusted the information given by the health visitor and practice nurse.
Having worked in healthcare for some time, I just, it's just noting most GPs' or nurses' natures to, that's not why people go into the profession really. It's, I don't think that's necessarily true. And I think, you know, people like for example health visitors don't, certainly don't get paid. And I think they'd be one of the first people to notice if there was a link and, and say so I think if they would feel it was their responsibility to do so. And so I think they, in my opinion they can certainly be trusted.
Believes that when you want expert advice you should talk to the professionals who have spent...
In the past decade, however, some parents in the UK have doubted the information they received from health professionals about their child's immunisations.
“I talked to my GP who I've always trusted implicitly and she said that the MMR was safe as far as she knew and that was the first time that I thought, but you work for the NHS I bet that's not true what you told me. Which now a year after he had the MMR it's quite bizarre to think I could have thought that about my GP.” [Interview 31- Mother of a 2 and half-year-old boy.]
Sensational reporting in the media, conspiracy theories, and lack of trust in the government, has done much to place doubts in the minds of some parents about the information given by health professionals about immunisations in the belief that they were following a government agenda, which might not be appropriate for their child.
However, health professionals do now have a huge body of research evidence available to them, all of which indicates the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines.
The overwhelming majority of parents believe in immunisation for their children. We have however included here the views of a few parents who do not believe immunisation is right for their own child based on their personal beliefs. Their views represent a small proportion of the population.
Parents had talked to their health visitor, the practice nurse, their GP, their midwife, and in some cases to an immunology specialist or to a homeopathic practitioner. Some got a second opinion from a private GP or medically trained friends and relations.
Talking about their concerns to a health professional can sometimes help parents to make their...
Information given to her by a midwife at a birth group influenced her decisions for her children...
I read that which sort of sewed a seed of doubt in my mind. It was books written by various doctors and articles interviewing parents whose children had been damaged from being what they believed from, from the vaccines. And I just really started to seek out as much information as I could.
Most parents found that talking to health professionals had been the best source of information to reassure them when they had concerns about immunisations. Parents' perceptions of the information given by health professionals were sometimes affected by how well they knew their GP.
Information given to her from a health professional was very important in helping her to decide...
But I think I really needed to hear the way that this lady spoke, it was very much a case of, you know, her comments seemed to be along the lines of that, you could give one child a ham sandwich and they'll be perfectly fine, you can another child a ham sandwich and they might have reaction to that. So there's always going to be this possibility that a small percentage of children might have a reaction, but like they might do to anything you might cook for them or something. But, that over-ridingly it's safe.
And she was, you know, very sort of from a sort of top overview telling me about the information that's coming from the States and various other countries and how many countries are actually using the MMR and how many years they've been using the MMR and that, you know, there is not a link, that, you know, and I think I needed to hear someone in her position saying, 'There is not a link between the MMR and autism.' And, so I think that's, like I say, and I think it was having that initial conversation where she said that, that really kind of tipped me over to think, 'Yeah, OK, I think we're going to go with doing this.'
After much anxiety, the information their GP told them helped them to make up their minds about MMR.
And in the end that's where I thought, 'Well' because my doctor who is a family friend and, as well, I just knew he wouldn't, he would not have staked his career on it. And, you know, I mean he just said, 'Come on, give her here, I'm going to do it now'. And he did it. And it was, and it was talking to them really and realising that they wouldn't say those things if they didn't truly believe them, you know.
A paediatric immunologist was able to provide her with enough information to make what she feels...
The other thing was the fact that which was key, was the fact that if you only have two out of the three sets, you really can't, it's not as if you can say, well that almost covers you, the third is just a safety check. You know, you cannot say that you've got sufficient cover after having two. So they always recommend that you have all three, if you possibly can. So that was really helpful. And a third thing was, that he reiterated the fact that any severe reaction would happen very quickly. So I would actually be in hospital at that time.
I had a five-minute, less than ten-minute call, with this paediatric immunologist, and it just was like a breath of fresh air. It was a huge relief because I felt I could then, make a, the best decision that I could make, under the circumstances, being always aware that there was a risk and it actually went extremely well. So and I'm very pleased that I went ahead and actually I'm, I'm pleased that I made the decision. And I'm pleased that it went well at the hospital and that's she's now protected against those illnesses.
The advice and information she got from a paediatrician helped her to decide to give her...
Did you ask him if he'd done that with his own children?
Did that make a difference?
It made a difference to me. I just talked to not lots of doctors, but I just thought, 'He's a really smart guy' you know. I mean he's a consultant for premature babies, he's so smart. I just don't believe in my heart that doctors would give you that information if for one minute they thought it would cause a problem. And I do believe that. I mean he's a very smart guy. And I think if he believed that maybe there are problems he would just say, 'It's your choice. I can't say'. But he did actually really promote it and said, 'It's really important that he gets it'. I mean it was still ultimately my choice, but I felt like he, you know, he's a smart guy, he works in the field, he works with babies all the time and I'm sure he sees the problems of not immunising children.
If she had been able to talk to the doctor who had been her GP for most of her life, she would...
I found them quite matter of fact. It was almost as though it was a topic that wasn't necessarily up for discussion. They were far more ready to outline the positives of having the vaccination than not having. To me, the health visitor's issue was either immunisation or not, not how to immunise. That didn't seem to come into the equation.
And for you it was the how to was the important thing?
It was, yes, absolutely. But then that made me think, well perhaps, you know, there are, they're taking this line because they are convinced that there is no real link with autism and therefore it's not a consideration for them. So it's just an awful lot to take on, take in, and an awful lot going on and it's hard to know, you know, when you're not medically minded, how to reach the decision.
I suppose so because, thinking about it, if I had been able to go to the GP that I'd had prior to leaving the UK, who had delivered me and so I had known all my life, I think if I'd have had a chat with him, it sounds silly to say whatever his opinion would have been I would have shared, but I would certainly have respected, yeah, most definitely. Because I would feel that he's, you know, he's the expert, he's better placed than I am to come to a decision.
Some parents said they would have liked more information on immunisations from health professionals, for example, getting answers to the questions they had, getting further information on facts they had read about, or talking about their particular concerns (see 'What type of information do parents want?').
When they weren't getting the information they needed from the health professionals about...
But many times we had done far more research. And at the end of the day a GP is a general practitioner, they can't be expected to be experts in every field. But what frustrates me is when you get to see somebody who is sometimes an expert in a particular field and they are still very reluctant to acknowledge bowel damage, that lactose intolerance truly exists and that both children had had it from birth, which we are led to believe is very unusual.
So there was a, you know, we felt quite rebutted a number of times. But in many ways it, it worked well for us because it gave us a natural scepticism about I guess the medical profession. And so that's what drove us to then do our own research and do the amount of research we did. Whereas, you know, maybe if people had just said, 'Oh, yes, you're right' or, 'you need to do this' we wouldn't have actually been driven. But because we were being, I guess people just didn't know that much or, you know, if they did, they didn't have the depth of information that we actually felt we had to do ourselves. It was up to us to make that choice for our children, it was up to us to do that research. So that's the path we led.
She had difficulty getting information from her GP because her GP didn't have access to...
I would liked, I mean the whole situation, not only with the GP but also with the health visitor, the whole medical team in a way to be a little bit more open-minded and a little bit more helpful, a little bit more listening, a little bit more open for, for alternatives in a way. I mean I know the system here works differently and obviously a GP never is a homeopath, a GP never has had any training in alternative medicine. So I do appreciate it's different here. But I still think that they should be more open-minded to the, especially to the, to the worries of parents, because it's not, it's not easy to make the decision. And they just want to assure you with their facts.
But if you read a lot about vaccinations, which almost every parent does, I think it, what happens is that the parent knows more than the GP often. I mean I know I don't know more than her, but in that conversation I had with her I actually thought I had gathered more information than she had, which is not very reassuring. And you, I felt left alone.
I have to actually say in fairness that the GP did call me back and she gave me the same clinic that I had got from JABS. So she was actually sincere when she said she hasn't got any access. I think they really don't do that, they don't have any access, and she was trying to do her best to get me a clinic, get me the name of the clinic.
When the health professionals she talked to weren't willing to discuss her concerns it made her...
Thought the information her GP gave her about the new 5 in 1 vaccine was biased.
So I said, 'Well, I'd rather wait for the next 10 days.' And the, and I was told that it was not possible and I was told that the reason why it was not possible was because I was putting my daughter at great risk of catching diphtheria within the next 10 days if she didn't have the vaccine. Which I think is, is not right. Because of course that's not the reason why the GP wanted her to have the vaccine. The reason was that, it was changing in 10 days and until then he had to vaccinate a number of people and he just wanted to get it done. And so I, this made me feel a little bit ill at ease and so it was not right. To wave the risk of disease and to try to convince me that I was being irresponsible and putting her at risk.
Some parents took on board information from health professionals as part of their information seeking process but they personally believed that information from health professionals was unlikely to be objective and likely to be leaning strongly in favour of immunisation. A small number personally believed that the general practice team could not give unbiased information about immunisations because they were obliged to follow the Department of Health guidelines. As mentioned above, there is a considerable amount of research evidence to suggest that vaccines are safe and effective.
Believed GPs cannot give unbiased information about immunisations because they need to follow the...
Father' You wouldn't ask your doctor because'
Father' As far as we're concerned your doctors are paid by the pharmaceutical companies and they cannot give you an unbiased opinion or an unpolitical answer to any of the questions that you might raise, towards the safety of vaccination.
Mother' Yeah taking the decision not to vaccinate does require you to be very, very strong and I'd say to any parent who takes that decision, 'You're not going to get an easy ride from the medical profession'. And I also am aware that there are some practices in some parts of the country that won't register unvaccinated children. So that's another'
Father' And if you refuse, they strike them off their lists because it's bringing their vaccination levels down which affects their targets for money that's given to them by the pharmaceutical companies.
Mother' That's sad to say, it's not paranoia. We've talked to too many people and'
Father' It's documented.
Mother' There's an awful lot of, and unearthed a lot of information that does suggest that a lot of this is related to finance. And I find that a sin, that our children's health is being sacrificed on the altar of hard cash. I think that's just terrible. So I think that it needs a good wake up call. But my husband is right you won't get this sort of information from'
Father' Your doctor
Mother' Or you are unlikely to. There are one of two full star doctors out there, if you're lucky enough to find one. We did have a superb GP. Sadly we don't have him anymore.
But I think parents need to prioritise and look at it a bit more and question, question the medical profession. They're only going to listen if enough people question them and present them with reasonable questions and say, 'Well, why can't we do this', and 'We're not happy about this'. I think as long as everyone just trots off with this doctor knows best attitude, at the moment, it's not a good, I don't think it's a good attitude to have.
Do doctors get paid for immunisations?
In the NHS, childhood immunisations have been part of the service that GPs are contracted to provide, and they do not get paid extra for each child who is immunised. There is a scheme to give general practices small additional payments if they meet certain targets set by the Department of Health, and the targets include childhood immunisations. The money from these bonuses goes into the practice account and is not given to an individual doctor or nurse. Childhood vaccines are bought from pharmaceutical companies by the Department of Health and distributed at no cost to the general practices. The arrangements for adult vaccines, for example the annual influenza campaign (flu vaccine), and for travel immunisations are different, and there is a more direct link between the number of immunisations given and the money earned by the practice. Doctors are paid for immunisations given privately outside the NHS.
Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated July 2013