Social and Moral Responsibility and Immunizations

Although it's not illegal to decline recommended immunizations, in many cases it is irresponsible and immoral, says Dr. Pullen.

This article originally appeared online at DrPullen.com, part of the HCPLive network.

This topic comes to mind now that we finally have our influenza vaccination at our office. Don’t get me going about how the giant pharmaceutical companies choose to provide their influenza product to giant customers, i.e. retail pharmacies before they supply physician offices. Every year I try to be first in line at our office for my influenza vaccination. I take seriously the mantra that as health care providers we have a responsibility to first do no harm. It’s hard to imagine doing more harm than seeing a patient with influenza on Monday, and on Wednesday, the day before I get sick, sneezing and passing the influenza germ to one of my vulnerable older patients, or a pregnant woman, or a young baby who then dies from influenza. This scenario is just inexcusable given that I could have avoided harming the patient if I had received the recommended and easily available influenza vaccination. It would be immoral and irresponsible to put my patients at that type of risk unnecessarily. I encourage, coax, tease, and everything short of intimidate my employees and fellow physicians to get their influenza vaccination also. School teachers, emergency workers, and others in close contact with the public should similarly feel morally compelled to get influenza vaccination.

I also got a Tdap vaccination this year also, even though it’s several years until I was due a tetanus shot (See Dr. Pullen Gets His Flu Shot Years Early!). My thinking was the same, try to avoid a pertussis infection, and not put my patients at risk.

It’s a small step from discussing health care workers and influenza and pertussis vaccination, to talking about parents and childhood vaccinations. The parent who chooses not to vaccinate their children against measles and pertussis puts not only their own child, but other children in the community and the school who may be at particular risk for complications from these infections in danger. These children at high risk may catch these infections from these unimmunized children. As a parent I’d feel terrible if my child died or became brain injured from measles, but I’d also feel horrible if my child passed Pertussis or measles on to a child with leukemia, or HIV because I chose to not immunize my child. I appreciate that this is a free society, and we can make our own personal choices about health care including immunizations. It’s not illegal to decline recommended immunizations, but in many cases it is irresponsible and immoral. Parents who choose not to immunize their children and take advantage of the herd immunity of the majority of children whose parents responsibly immunize their kids are just ignorantly selfish. They think they are protecting their children from risks of immunizations, though a great mass of evidence refutes this point of view. In fact they are putting both their own child, and other children who lack immunity through no choice of their own or their parents at risk.

I’m anticipating a rash of angry comments calling me a mouthpiece of the brainwashed physicians of organized medicine. Don’t believe them.

See these references on the safety of childhood immunizations:

  • Prenatal and Infant Exposure to Thimerosal From Vaccines and Immunoglobulins and Risk of Autism i.e. NOT.
  • Data Fail to Support Thimerosal-Autism Link
  • The End of the Autism/Vaccine Debate?
  • Book is Rallying Resistance to the Antivaccine Crusade

Ed Pullen, MD, is a board-certified family physician practicing in Puyallup, WA. He blogs at DrPullen.com — A Medical Bog for the Informed Patient.