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The new study is based on an online survey of parents with children 17 and younger. It used a sample from a randomly selected pool of nationally representative participants. Households were given Internet access if they didn't already have it to make sure families of all incomes were included. Vaccines weren't mentioned in the survey invitation and vaccine questions were among others on unrelated topics.
Twenty-five percent of the parents said they agreed "some vaccines cause autism in healthy children." Among mothers, 29 percent agreed with that statement; among fathers, it was 17 percent.
Nearly 12 percent of the parents said they'd refused a vaccine for their children that a doctor recommended. Of those, 56 percent said they'd refused the relatively new vaccine against human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can cause cervical cancer. Others refused vaccines against meningococcal disease (32 percent), chickenpox (32 percent) and measles-mumps-rubella (18 percent).
Parents who refused the HPV vaccine, recommended for girls since 2006, cited various reasons.
Parents who refused the MMR vaccine, the shot most feared for its spurious autism link, said they'd read or heard about problems with it or felt its risks were too great.
The findings will help doctors craft better ways to talk with parents, said Dr. Gary S. Marshall of the University of Louisville School of Medicine and author of a vaccine handbook for doctors.
"For our children's sake, we have to think like scientists," said Marshall, who was not involved in the new study. "We need to do a better job presenting the data so parents understand how scientists have reached this conclusion that vaccines don't cause autism."
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