To understand physician concerns about litigation and beliefs regarding vaccine safety.
A stratified random sample of family physicians, pediatricians, and general practitioners younger than 65 years who were in office-based practices across the United States was selected from the American Medical Association list that includes nonmembers. A standardized telephone survey was conducted by trained interviewers in 1995.
Physicians seeing 5 or more patients per week younger than 6 years and having 50% or more primary care patients were eligible for the study.
Of the 1236 physicians who were surveyed, 32% and 13% overestimated the risk for serious adverse effects related to pertussis and measles vaccines, respectively. Among physicians who thought that serious adverse effects from diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and pertussis vaccine (DTP) were unlikely, 15% were highly concerned about litigation; however, among those with higher ratings of the likelihood of serious adverse effects, 38% were highly concerned about vaccine litigation (P<.01). Of those aware of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, only 41% believed that it afforded a high level of liability protection; 22% believed that it gives little protection, and 37% gave an intermediate answer. Among physicians highly concerned about vaccine litigation, 22% were unlikely to recommend the third dose of DTP for a child with a fever of 39.4°C and no other symptoms after the second dose of DTP, whereas among those expressing little concern about litigation, only 12% were unlikely to vaccinate (P<.05). Although some physicians were concerned about litigation, most (86%) encouraged vaccination even if a parent was argumentative about possible adverse effects.
Physicians' perceptions about the risk for adverse effects and protection afforded by the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program influence their concern about litigation and, to a lesser extent, their reported likelihood to administer immunizations.