Assessing the Accuracy of Parental Recall of Child Immunizations in an Inner-City Population

Published in: Ambulatory Child Health, Volume 2, pages 319-327 (1997)

Posted on on January 01, 1997

by David L. Wood, Neal Halfon, Cathy D. Sherbourne, Mark Grabowsky, Naihua Duan


To assess the accuracy of parental recall of the child's immunization receipt in the first year of life. Design: Provider record abstraction of immunization receipt compared to parental recall for 180 children from a representative sample of inner-city children 12-36 months of age.


Overall, 49% of respondents accurately recalled the number of DTP and OPV series of immunizations received by their children during the first year of life. 29% of parents over-reported and 22% under-reported receipt of their child's immunizations. For selected population subgroups, up-to-date estimates at 12 months of age based on parental report over-estimated the written up-to-date rate by up to 32 percentage points (for African-Americans) or under-estimated the written record by up to 11 percentage points (for the first born child). Accurate recall of a simpler task, that of MMR receipt, was higher at 73%.

Conclusions/implications for practice

We conclude that parental recall of full immunization series received during the first year of life is accurate only approximately 50% of the time, however recall of individual immunizations may be higher. The accuracy of parental recall of child immunizations is quite variable by both the complexity of the recall task and by patient demographic characteristics. The provider can assist parents increase the accuracy of their recall by being very specific in framing recall questions.

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