A study finding midwives have lower confidence in vaccine safety is “concerning” says researchers – but the College of Midwives says the sample is too small, and immunisation rates too high, to make such claims.

The New Zealand Medical Journal today published a study analysing how health professionals responded to the question, “It is safe to vaccinate children following the standard New Zealand immunisation schedule”.

The researchers, from the University of Auckland psychology department, found that doctors, nurses and pharmacists involved in the study had strong levels of confidence in the safety of childhood vaccines (96%, 83% and 90% respectively) and were considerably more confident than the survey’s general public participants (68.5%), but that midwives (65%) and, in particular, alternative medicine practitioners (13.6%) had low confidence levels.

The research team concluded that the “low level of confidence among midwives is a major concern and may be contributing to the persistence of vaccine scepticism among the general public”. The study draws on data from the just over 1000 health professionals who took part in the 2013/14 survey of the longitudinal New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) with nurses making up the majority (524), followed by GPs (122) and included 43 midwives and 22 alternative medicine practitioners.

Lesley Dixon, a midwifery advisor for the New Zealand College of Midwives pointed out that the study was based on a very small and unrepresentative sample of the profession as the 43 midwives in the study were only equivalent to 1.4% of the midwifery workforce. “It is a small sample to make this level of claim from,” said Dixon.

She also noted that the study pointed out that New Zealand’s childhood immunisation coverage at the important milestone ages was relatively high (from 78% to 93% in 2017) and it was midwives who provided mothers and their partners with immunisation information and supported mothers and babies’ transition to well child providers at the first immunisation milestone of six weeks.

“It is important to know that regardless of what midwives might think, that it is part of their professional role to provide information to parents to support them in their decision-making around childhood immunisation,” said Dixon.  “Given the high rate of immunisation in New Zealand we would suggest that women and their partners are receiving information that supports immunisation.”

The study said that midwives showed a significantly lower level of confidence in vaccine safety compared to most other health professionals and continued to exhibit lower confidence than GPs/doctors and pharmacists after controlling for demographic factors.

Other health professionals result from the study were physiotherapists (60 participants, 85% strong vaccine confidence levels) specialist doctors (32, 87%), dentists (29, 86%), radiographers (27, 78%), occupational therapists (21, 81%) and alternative medicine practitioners (22, 13.6%).

The NZAVS 2013/14 survey involved more than 18,000 New Zealanders in total and found that 68.5% strongly agreed that the standard childhood immunisation schedule vaccinations were safe, but 26% expressed uncertainty and 5.5% were strongly opposed.

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