How Good Jobs Help Parents Meet Babies’ Vaccination Schedules

By Lauren French

As we recognize the health benefits of vaccination during National Infant Immunization Week, we must also recognize the impossible choice faced by many working parents: jeopardize their family’s financial stability to take their children to immunization appointments or put those children at risk of contracting a dangerous illness.

Immunizations are a critical aspect of the health and well-being of infants and toddlers. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that vaccinations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years. Failing to vaccinate can put children at serious risk of diseases such as measles and whooping cough. Despite the wealth of evidence demonstrating the importance of vaccinations, lack of paid sick leave and inflexible or unpredictable job schedules often mean that working parents are unable to take their children to immunization appointments. In fact, 13 percent of working parents report that they are unable to meet their children’s preventive health care needs often, some, or all the time.

Research shows that job schedule flexibility and workplace supports make it substantially easier for parents to obtain preventative care for their children. For example, a parent being able to make a personal phone call at work reduces by 56 percent the odds of not meeting their child’s preventive health needs. Jobs that allow working parents to make schedule adjustments reduce those odds by 40 percent.

New data from an EINet working paper by Susan Lambert, Julia Henly, and Peter Fugiel show that among those with young children, only half of hourly workers and less than 40 percent of non-hourly workers have any input into their job schedules. Additionally, more than 40 percent of hourly workers with children under six receive just one week or less advance notice of their schedules.

Because doctors’ office hours generally overlap with parents’ working hours, getting infants and toddlers to vaccination appointments often means taking time away from work. Unfortunately, about 40 percent of private sector workers have no access to earned sick days. One study found that working parents who did not have paid leave reported losing income when they had to take a child for immunizations. This is especially problematic for low-income families, as only 30 percent of low-wage workers have access to sick days.

Ensuring our nation’s children are protected from preventable disease requires that we address the significant hurdles facing working parents. National Infant Immunization Week reminds us that we urgently need public policies that make it possible for parents to provide for the financial health of their families without having to sacrifice their physical well-being. Policies that give workers the right to paid sick time and workplace flexibility are important steps towards a happier, healthier future for our children.