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Doctors Dismiss Parents Who Refuse to Vaccinate Kids

Doctors Dismiss Parents Who Refuse to Vaccinate Kids

As more parents are refusing to vaccinate their kids, a growing number of doctors are refusing to see these children as patients—with the blessing of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), according to

A recent study found parents refusing all vaccines rose from 2.1 percent to 3.3 percent, with the reasons varying from worrying about a child’s discomfort and concern over a vaccine possibly weakening a child’s immune system to some parents believing that vaccines are simply unnecessary.

Nearly one in eight pediatricians reported in 2013 that they always dismiss patients who continue to refuse vaccines—twice as many as in 2006, according to a study by the AAP comparing 2006 and 2013 survey results.

While in the past, the AAP has encouraged pediatricians to continue providing unvaccinated children with healthcare, a new technical report on confronting vaccine hesitancy offers more leeway for pediatricians who dismiss vaccine refusers—an acknowledgement that it’s acceptable after doctors have tried everything else.

“The decision to dismiss a family who continues to refuse immunization is not one that should be made lightly, nor should it be made without considering and respecting the reasons for the parents’ point of view,” the report states. “Nevertheless, the individual pediatrician may consider dismissal of families who refuse vaccination as an acceptable option.”

Of course, pediatricians—as well as parents—have differing opinions on whether doctors should “fire” patients for refusing to vaccinate.

“I consider immunizations to be a foundation of pediatric practice. If parents disagree with me over that, I find we end up disagreeing over a number of important pediatric principles,” said Phil Boucher, MD, FAAP. “The pediatrician-parent-patient relationship is built on trust. If parents don’t trust my medical opinion, it is difficult to maintain that relationship.”

But Dan Flanders, MD, FAAP, does not have a vaccinated-families-only policy, seeing the ‘threat to dismiss’ procedure as a scare tactic that can undermine the trust between doctor and family.

“I worry that when pediatricians dismiss vaccine-hesitant families, it is the children who suffer for their parents’ poor, uninformed choices,” says Dr. Flanders.

As for parents, it should come as no surprise that the opinion on the AAP’s new policy comes with mixed opinions. While mom Effie Greenhouse of Portland, Oregon said she has never felt uncomfortable taking her children on playdates with the children of a friend who delays vaccines, she’s not sure she agrees with doctors refusing to see unvaccinated kids.

“I get worried that if my doctor and most other doctors shun parents who are refusing or delaying vaccinations, and all of those families then cluster at a few remaining doctors’ offices, our chances of an outbreak could increase,” Greenhouse said. “If a practice has a lot of non-vaccinating families, it seems like an outbreak could really take off and spread further, so I want my doctor to see vaccine-hesitant and vaccine-refusing families. I want those kids to get the benefits of herd immunity, too.”

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Author: Linda DiProperzio has written extensively on parenting issues for Parents, American Baby, Parenting, and Family Circle, among others. She lives in New York with her husband and two sons. See More

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