The impact of time since vaccination and study design on validity in parental recall of childhood vaccination status in the All Our Families cohort

Parental reporting of childhood vaccination status is often used for policy and program evaluation and research purposes. Many factors can bias parental reporting of childhood vaccination status, however, to our knowledge, no analysis has assessed whether time since vaccination impacts reporting accuracy. Therefore, using the Calgary electronic vaccine registry (PHANTIM) as the gold standard, we aimed to test the accuracy of parental reporting of childhood vaccination status at three different time-points since vaccination.

The All Our Families (AOF) cohort study asked parents to report their child’s 2, 4, 6, 12 and 18 month vaccines (vaccination time-point) on questionnaires given when the child was 1, 2 and 3 years of age (survey time-point). We linked the AOF parental reporting of vaccination status to the PHANTIM registry and calculated the percent agreement and difference in coverage estimates between PHANTIM and AOF at each vaccination and survey time-point combination. Furthermore, we measured the sensitivity and specificity, and negative (NPV) and positive predictive values (PPV) of parental vaccine recall across time.

AOF parent reports of coverage rates were consistently higher than the PHANTIM estimates. While we saw significant differences in percent agreement for certain vaccination time-points, we saw no consistent directional difference by survey time-point, suggesting that parental accuracy did not change with time. We found a uniformly high sensitivity across all vaccination and survey time-points, and no consistent patterns in the specificity, PPV and NPV results.

Time since vaccination may not be the most important consideration when designing and implementing a vaccination survey. Other factors that may contribute to the bias associated with parental reporting of vaccination status include the complexity of the vaccine schedule, schedule changes over time, and the wording and structure of the questionnaires.

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Rafferty E, Hetherington E, Tough S, Aujla S, McNeil D, Saini V, McDonald S, MacDonald SE

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