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A major challenge in comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated children has been to identify an accessible pool of unvaccinated children, since the vast majority of children in the U.S. are vaccinated. Children educated at home (“homeschool children”) are suitable for such studies as a higher proportion are unvaccinated compared to public school children . The aims of this study were 1) to compare vaccinated and unvaccinated children on a broad range of health outcomes, including acute and chronic conditions, medication and health service utilization, and 2) to determine whether an association found between vaccination and NDDs, if any, remained significant after adjustment for other measured factors.To implement the study, a partnership was formed with the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), an organization that has been involved in educational research on homeschooling for many years and has strong and extensive contacts with the homeschool community throughout the country (www.nheri.org). The study protocol was approved by the Institutional Review Board of Jackson State University.The study was designed as a cross-sectional survey of homeschooling mothers on their vaccinated and unvaccinated biological children ages 6 to 12. As contact information on homeschool families was unavailable, there was no defined population or sampling frame from which a randomized study could be carried out, and from which response rates could be determined. However, the object of our pilot study was not to obtain a representative sample of homeschool children but a convenience sample of unvaccinated children of sufficient size to test for significant differences in outcomes between the groups.Both the letter to families and the survey questions were stated in a neutral way with respect to vaccines. Our letter to parents began:“Dear Parent, This study concerns a major current health question: namely, whether vaccination is linked in any way to children's long-term health.Respondents were asked to indicate their consent to participate, to provide their home state and zip code of residence, and to confirm that they had biological children 6 to 12 years of age. The communications company Qualtrics (http://qualtrics.com) hosted the survey website. The questionnaire included only closed-ended questions requiring yes or no responses, with the aim of improving both response and completion rates.A number of homeschool mothers volunteered to assist NHERI promote the study to their wide circles of homeschool contacts. A number of nationwide organizations also agreed to promote the study in the designated states. The online survey remained open for three months in the summer of 2012.
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