Objectives: We studied school personnel involved in the review of student's immunization status to determine whether personnel training, immunization-related knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs, use of alternative medicine, and sources of vaccine information were associated with the vaccination status of school children.
Methods: Surveys were mailed to a stratified and random sample of 1000 schools in Colorado, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Washington. School personnel reported their training and perceptions of disease susceptibility/severity, vaccine efficacy/safety, key immunization beliefs, use of alternative medicine, confidence in organizations, sources, and credibility of vaccine information, and the rates of vaccine exemptors in their schools. Logistic regression analysis was used to explore associations between personnel factors and beliefs (independent variables) with the likelihood of a child having an exemption (dependent variable). Regression models were adjusted for clustering of children in schools, type of school (public versus private), and state.
Results: Surveys were returned by 69.6% of eligible participants. A child attending a school with a respondent who was a nurse was significantly less likely to be have an exemption than a child attending a school with a respondent who was not a nurse (odds ratio [OR]: 0.39; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.28-0.56). The majority of respondents believed that children (95.6%) and the community (96.1%) benefit when children are vaccinated. Nurses were more likely than nonnurses to hold beliefs supporting the utility and safety of vaccination. Greater perceived disease susceptibility and severity and vaccine efficacy and safety were associated with a decreased likelihood of a child in the school having an exemption. Vaccine misconceptions were relatively common. For example, 19.0% of respondents were concerned that children's immune systems could be weakened by too many immunizations, and this belief was associated with an increased likelihood of a child in the school having an exemption (OR: 1.51; 95% CI: 1.00-2.28). Most respondents had a moderate amount or great deal of confidence in state health departments (91.4%), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (93.9%), local health departments (88.8%), health care providers (88.5%), the Food and Drug Administration (73.6%), and the health care system (65.2%). Fewer respondents had a moderate amount or great deal of confidence in the media (17.4%). A child attending a school with a respondent who had a moderate amount or great deal of confidence in local and state health departments was less likely to have an exemption (OR: 0.47 and 0.44; 95% CI: 0.27-0.80 and 0.25-0.80, respectively) than a child attending a school with a respondent who did not have a moderate amount or great deal of confidence in local and state health departments. Confidence in other groups was not associated with the likelihood of a child in the school having an exemption. Nearly half (45.5%) of the respondents or their immediate family members had used some form of alternative medicine in the last 5 years. A child attending a school with a respondent who had (or had a family member[s] who) used an alternative medicine practitioner was more likely to have an exemption than a child attending a school with a respondent who had not used an alternative medicine practitioner. There were significant associations between sources used and perception of reliability for vaccine information with the likelihood of a child in the school having an exemption. Use of professional organizations, government resources, vaccine companies, and pharmacists for vaccine information were associated with a decreased likelihood of a child in the school having an exemption. Perceiving health departments and the CDC as a good or excellent source for vaccine information was associated with a decreased likelihood of a child in the school having an exemption.
Conclusions: The training, knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of school personnel who work with parents on immunrk with parents on immunization issues were associated with the likelihood of a child in the school having an exemption. Although respondents generally believed in vaccinations, misconceptions were common. Many school personnel seem to be unaware of the seriousness of some vaccine-preventable diseases and that unimmunized children are highly susceptible to diseases. These misperceptions were associated with an increased likelihood of a child having an exemption. This study of associations cannot determine causal associations. Nonetheless, the frequency of vaccine misconceptions among school personnel warrants vaccine communication programs for school employees who work with parents on immunization issues. An intervention study could determine whether such programs have an impact on parental decisions to claim exemptions for their children. Personnel without formal health care training who advice parents on immunization issues could be passing on misinformation to parents. Nurses or properly trained health personnel should be the primary school contacts for parents on immunization issues. Health departments and health care providers were used most often by school personnel for vaccine information. Providers, professional organizations, health departments, and the CDC were considered most credible. The CDC may be an underutilized source, given its high credibility; only 58.1% of respondents reported using the CDC for vaccine information. Greater visibility of CDC on vaccine information statements and communication efforts from the CDC directly to school personnel will likely be well received. Respondents who do not consider health departments and the CDC as credible sources were associated with a greater likelihood of a child in their school having an exemption. The CDC may need to consider working with other reliable sources to communicate with these personnel. Studies are needed to understand why some parents choose to forgo vaccination for children who do not have true medical contraindications to vaccines. School personnel trained in vaccine safety may serve as a valuable source of vaccine information for parents. Parents who have misconceptions about vaccines would likely benefit from discussions with health care providers. Additional public-information campaigns regarding misconceptions and the value of vaccination may be needed.