Pediatricians Refuse to Treat Patients Who Refuse Vaccines

July 8, 2011

As a growing number of parents resist vaccination of their children, some pediatricians are countering by refusing to accept the unvaccinated as patients.

As a growing number of parents resist vaccination of their children against diseases such as measles, mumps, and rubella, some pediatricians are countering by refusing to accept the unvaccinated as patients. One example is the Northwestern Children’s Practice in Chicago, featured in an article on the topic that appeared Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune.

As of June 1, the practice’s eight pediatricians began to enforce a policy requiring all patients to follow the immunization schedule established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics or seek treatment elsewhere. The rationale for refusing to treat patients who buck the vaccination schedule is that they unfairly place patients who do follow the schedule at greater risk of contracting the diseases the vaccinations are designed to protect against. “[W]e feel strongly that the best way to protect the health of all children in our practice is to ensure that everyone follows the recommended schedule,” notes the practice’s policy statement.

The AAP’s official policy is firmly in favor of childhood immunization. However, it advises pediatricians to continue to treat children even if their parents refuse to follow the vaccination schedule on the logic that these children still deserve quality care and that maintaining a relationship with their parents offers an opportunity to maintain a dialogue about the merits of vaccination. (The policy does allow that “when a substantial level of distrustdevelops, significant differences in the philosophy of careemerge, or poor quality of communication persists, the pediatricianmay encourage the family to find another physician or practice.”)

Parental resistance to vaccination has a variety of causes, but a widely discredited 1998 study linking the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine to autism that appeared in the British medical journal The Lancet has fueled growing opposition since it was published. (The Lancet formally retracted the study this February.)

A study published last year in the journal Pediatrics found that almost 12% of parents have refused to have their child receive at least one vaccine recommended by their doctor. However, according to the Tribune article, fewer than a dozen families out of a total of 5,000 to 6,000 patients have opted to leave the Northwestern Children’s Practice in response to its new policy.

Around the Web

Some pediatricians taking stand for vaccine program [Chicago Tribune]

New Policy on Vaccines [Northwestern Children’s Practice]

Recommended Immunization Schedules [AAP]

Parental Vaccine Safety Concerns in 2009 [Pediatrics]

Responding to Parental Refusals of Immunization of Children [AAP Policy]