Newborns are recommended to receive a series of shots and vaccines in the early months of life. One of the first ones recommended at birth is a vitamin K shot. Vitamin K is needed for the blood to clot, and low levels of it can cause rare but serious bleeding problems.
The decision to receive the shot, however, is ultimately up to the child's guardians.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in the Nov. 15 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that four confirmed cases of late vitamin K deficient bleeding were diagnosed at a children's hospital in Nashville, Tenn from Feb. to Sept. 2013. All four infants were not given a vitamin K shot due to their parental refusals
Humans can make vitamin K internally through the bacteria that lives in their gastrointestinal tract. They can also consume it through foods like leafy green vegetables. However, babies are born with a sterile gut and only produce very low levels of vitamin K, Dr. Tiffany McKee-Garrett, a neonatologist and assistant medical director of the Mother-Baby Unit at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women in Houston, explained to CBSNews.com.
To give babies clotting protection, they need a boost of vitamin K, she said. Since 1961, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that infants receive the vitamin K shot, which is simply a dose of the vitamin.
But, over the last few years, McKee-Garrett and her colleagues noticed an uptick in parents refusing the vitamin K shot and they believe ‘Google medicine’ is to blame.
“I think because of the age of the internet, there’s several different mommy blogs and chat groups that have different opinions,” she said. “They’re out there, and I think that can scare the new parents.”
McKee-Garrett noted that a lot of these non-scientific websites present facts about vitamin K shots that are simply not true.
“It’s believed that anything that is not 100 percent natural... is harmful,” she said. “We’ve had the experience that not doing these things (giving the vitamin K shot) is harmful.”
McKee-Garrett said that most vitamin K shots administered to newborns are preservative-free, and the only side effect is a little pain or sting at the site of the injection. She believes many parents are confused and think that the shot is a vaccine, which has raised some unwarranted fears over links to developmental problems in the past.
The CDC found in the cases of the four parents who declined the vitamin K shot, they claimed they made their decision based on their idea that the shot was unnecessary and to limit their child’s exposure to “toxins.” They also said they believed there was a higher risk for leukemia when the child was given vitamin K. That link was shown in one 1992 study, but has not since been replicated by other research.
McKee-Garrett pointed out that the health risks connected with not getting the vitamin K dose are more dangerous. Without the shot, children are at risk of spontaneous bleeding during their first week of life due to a syndrome known as early vitamin K deficiency bleeding. They also are at higher risk of late vitamin K deficiency bleeding between the second and 12th weeks of life.
These bleeding issues can leave lasting effects. While one of the Tenn. infants fully recovered, the other three -- who presented with bleeding in the brain -- are still being observed. One of the children is already displaying signs of motor issues, according to the report.
“It’s just not safe for the babies to deny a shot that could be life-saving,” she said.
Symptoms of vitamin K deficiency bleeding include issues with feeding and being sleepy all the time. Adding to the risk is most doctors assume that all babies are given vitamin K shots, thus, they might not suspect a deficiency when parents bring in their kids, McKee-Garrett explained. In fact, doctors may suspect that the baby experienced trauma or abuse that caused their unexpected bleeding.
McKee-Garrett said that she saw reports claiming that up to 3 percent of parents are saying no to the shot, which is an unacceptable amount, she said, especially since the bleeding issues can be prevented easily.
“We shouldn’t be seeing any parents saying no to the shot,” she said. “All the parents should be saying, ‘Yes, of course, give my baby that shot.’”