Facebook won’t take the place of your pediatrician any time soon. But, it HAS changed how parents make medical decisions. That’s the take-home message from a study in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers found that almost all parents consulted their social networks before getting their children vaccinated. And get this: almost 40-percent of moms and dads ignored the advice of their pediatricians, and delayed or skipped vaccinations based upon their friends’ recommendations. In fact, the “friend effect” was so strong that even parents who know that vaccinations are important and safe skipped them on the advice of their friends.

Lead researcher Dr. Emily Brunson believes it’s because – when people are faced with a big decision – they find an extra layer of comfort in following a friend’s lead.

The bad news is: Most of the anti-vaccination information passed around on social networks is based on discredited research – like the false claim that vaccines cause autism.

Part of the reason that autism worries parents more than the diseases the vaccines prevent is because vaccines have been so effective!

They’ve virtually eliminated childhood diseases like polio and measles, so parents don’t consider them a big threat – meanwhile, autism rates are climbing every year.

But pediatrician Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson says that - in countries that haven’t had the benefit of near-universal vaccinations – the dangers of those diseases are all too obvious, and children die from them all the time.

Even scarier, as more parents listen to their friends instead of their doctors, the chances of serious childhood diseases making a worldwide comeback increase.

Bottom line: If you want more information on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, talk to a medical professional.