AUniversity of Otago study has shown that parents who decline vitamin K for their newborn children are more likely to turn down childhood immunisations.
Researchers from the Department of Women and Children’s Health believe the results of the study may be useful in defining the small group of New Zealand parents who refuse immunisation. Data could then be used to provide “extra support [and] extra education” to the relevant group, said lead author of the study, Ben Wheeler.
Vitamin K is offered to parents of newborns to “prevent a condition called vitamin K deficiency bleeding” said Wheeler. This is uncommon, but can lead to severe bleeding and death. Researchers found that those who turned down vitamin K were more than 14 times more likely to later turn down immunisation.
The study used medical records of 3575 babies born in Dunedin Hospital in 2010 and 2011, and found that the 3 percent of parents who decline vitamin K have a 17 percent chance of refusing early childhood vaccinations. Of those who accept vitamin K, only 1.2 percent turned down later immunisation.
Wheeler said that the researchers don’t “fully understand” why parents refuse vitamin K, but believes that “misinformation in the press or on the internet” and “fear of big pharmaceutical[s]” may be factors.
He said parents may also be worried about causing pain to their baby.
The research was inspired by the many parallels and similarities between administration of vitamin k and immunisation, said Wheeler. “They are both intramuscular injections, they’re both a public health intervention … and they both prevent things that aren’t super common.”
Wheeler said that vitamin K administrations and general vaccinations are more like an “insurance policy” for rare conditions, but he strongly believes in their use. Wheeler said that as a paediatrician he “sees the consequences of these illnesses in people who are not immunised”.
“Immunisation is often misunderstood by the public,” said Wheeler. “There’s a feeling that nature is benign towards us … there are many things in nature whose sole purpose is our destruction, and immunisation is one thing we have to fight back.”
The results of the Otago study are featured in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, an international publication.