Parents urged to keep records rather than rely on doctors

NEW YORK — Taking charge of your toddler's vaccination record may be the best way to ensure he or she doesn't miss any shots, a new study suggests.

"In our country, we think the doctor should have all the medical records," said Dr. James McElligott, a pediatrician at the Medical University of South Carolina who worked on the study. "I like the idea of putting the ownership back in mom's hands and empowering her a little bit."

When parents kept a so-called shot card, their child's odds of being up-to-date on vaccinations increased by more than half, according to the study posted online Feb. 15 in the journal Pediatrics.

Experts agree that kids aren't getting the vaccines they need, from those for measles, mumps and rubella to those for polio and the flu. Tapping into national vaccination data, McElligott and his colleague Dr. Paul Darden found that about 81 percent of 2-year-olds were considered up-to-date according to national guidelines.

But no one has figured out the best way to meet national goals. One potential solution is using shot cards.

In their study, McElligott and Darden, who is now at the University of Oklahoma, found that about 40 percent of the toddlers had a shot card, and 84 percent of these had up-to-date vaccinations. By contrast, only 79 percent of the children without a card had all their shots.

From the study, however, it is impossible to determine whether the card itself led to more vaccinations. It could be that parents who are organized enough to keep their own records are the parents who remember to take their children to the doctor regularly —or vice versa.

The timing of vaccinations is important because toddlers' immune systems have not yet matured enough to fight off many diseases, said Dr. Robert M. Jacobson, a professor of pediatrics at the Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn., who was not involved in the study.

In principle, experts would like for at least 95 percent of children to have up-to-date-vaccinations, Jacobson added. But in the real world, numbers fall well short of that. In some poor communities, it's about 50 percent.

The new study found that shot cards were particularly effective when mothers had little education or had many children, and when a child had multiple health-care providers.

McElligott said the findings strengthened the case for holding on to your child's vaccination records.

"It turns out that not only does it make a big difference, but it seems to work in the people who need it the most," he said.

With an ever-expanding list of shots, it may be difficult for parents to keep track of which vaccines their kids already have and which ones they still need.

"You need a vaccination record in part to remind yourself and in part to share with providers when you move," Jacobson said.

"The fact is that it doesn't have a downside and it's cheap," he said.