DO NO HARM

Doctors know they can’t change anti-vaxxers’ minds—but they can refuse to treat their kids

If you don’t believe in vaccinations, then your doctor might not accept your child as a patient.

Some practitioners want to protect patients who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons. Others feel it’s their responsibility to mark parents’ opposition to vaccination as unacceptable.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides guidelines and documents to help pediatricians deal with parents who refuse to immunize their children. The guidelines include a sample letter a practice refusing to accept unvaccinated kids may share with their parents, which include very direct statements:

By not vaccinating your child you are taking selfish advantage of thousands of others who do vaccinate their children, which decreases the likelihood that your child will contract one of these diseases. We feel such an attitude to be self-centered and unacceptable.

As Eric Ball, a doctor from Southern Orange County Pediatric Associates, told the Los Angeles Times:

“If we allow parents to be in our practice who don’t vaccinate their kids, we’re passively telling them that it’s OK. It’s not OK for those families, the community and for other patients.”

Ball is not alone. Following the measles epidemic that has hit dozens of children in the US, about one-fifth of the doctors surveyed by medical publication MedPage Today refuse taking new patients who decline childhood immunization, and 10% have recently changed their policy toward unvaccinated patients based on other patients’ concerns.

In some cases, doctors will see patients who reject immunization only if it’s on religious grounds. As Aaron Clark, a physician who practices in Ohio told to MedPage Today:

“I have tried numerous times to educate and explain the safety and merits of immunizations and debunk myths and misunderstandings but those conversations rarely result in a change in mind from the parent.”

One of the arguments in favor of doctors still accepting kids of anti-immunization parents is that the visits might inform them about the importance of vaccines. According to a Dartmouth study on effective messages in vaccine promotion (pdf), scientific evidence does little to counter the belief that vaccines are harmful.

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