Some pediatric practices are taking a strong stand in favor of
vaccinations by refusing to treat children whose parents refuse to
immunize them. As a pediatrician, this caught my attention because
I can't think of any other time when I have seen my colleagues have
such strong feelings about an issue that they would elect not to
take care of a child.
We got into this field to care for children, not to refuse them
care, so why are practices all over the country adopting such a
firm policy? It has to do with a staunch regard for protecting the
health of all children, even if that means not caring for some.
The safety and effectiveness of immunizations have been proven
conclusively. According to the World Health Organization,
immunizations save the lives of more than 3 million children
worldwide each year and help millions more avoid severe illness,
lengthy hospitalization and disability. In addition to their
success at preventing illnesses, immunizations have no more risks
or side effects than many commonly prescribed medications. That is
not to say that they don't carry some risks, but so do aspirin,
Tylenol and every other medication and treatment on the market.
The Internet is filled with misinformation, conjecture and
conspiracy theories that have led some parents to be so fearful of
immunizations that they refuse to immunize altogether. In some
communities this refusal has led to outbreaks and sometimes deaths
from diseases that are completely preventable.
Some parents argue that whether to immunize or not is a personal
choice, but an unimmunized child endangers more than just himself.
Clusters of unimmunized children can weaken "herd immunity," and
that's when outbreaks happen. Herd immunity refers to the
phenomenon where so many people in a population are immune to a
disease that even if one person happens to contract the illness, it
cannot spread to others.
Herd immunity is what protects children who cannot be safely
immunized because of a medical condition. It also protects those
few people whose immunity wanes over time and is what often
protects children whose parents don't immunize them.
I called a few of the pediatricians who have adopted this new
policy and I discovered that they are not abandoning their
patients. Far from it. This small, but growing, group of doctors is
so committed to the health of all children that they are willing to
spend a significant amount of time (sometimes hours) explaining the
benefits and risks of immunizations to parents who are
It is understandable that a parent might be frightened by
unsubstantiated and sensational claims, but one of the fundamental
aspects of the parent-pediatrician relationship is trust.
If parents still refuse to consent to immunization after a
detailed discussion of their concerns, then these practitioners
suggest that the family find a pediatrician who agrees with that
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.
What to do with your weekend, delivered every Thursday.
Great deals and chances to win prizes, delivered every Monday.
Exclusive offers from our partners,usually delivered twice a week.
Resources for parents of children with special needs,delivered the second Tuesday each month.